‘We Are Fighting for Identity, Freedom’ « CmaTrends

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When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, director Maksym Nakonechnyi – whose debut feature “Butterfly Vision” world premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard – was developing his next film – a comedy about flat-Earth conspiracy under the working title “The Earth Is Flat – I Flew Around It and Saw It.” But he is putting it on the backburner now, he tells Variety, because “this war has already changed everything.”

“I wanted to make something that wouldn’t be directly influenced by the war, but then I understood it would be anyway. When we studied Ukrainian literature back at school, we used to complain about all these depressing, tragic stories. Now, we are bitterly joking that our life is like this 24/7,” he says.

Instead, Nakonechnyi is shooting a documentary for dance music platform Resident Advisor about Ukrainian electronic scene, called “Ukraine Underground,” and developing a short documentary set in the Kyiv Zoo.

“Butterfly Vision” focuses on aerial reconnaissance expert Lilia, coming back home after spending months as a prisoner in Donbas and trying to get on with her life. Produced by Tabor – co-founded by Nakonechnyi – alongside 4Films, MasterFilm and Sisyfos, with Wild Bunch International handling sales, it was co-written by Iryna Tsilyk, whose “Rock. Paper. Grenade” was introduced during Marché du Film’s Ukrainian Features Preview.

However, Cannes’ decision to include Kirill Serebrennikov’s “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” in the main competition, despite Ukrainian calls for boycott of Russian films, left Nakonechnyi conflicted.

“It’s embarrassing,” he says. In April, he took to social media, calling out the “elitist” film industry for its “hypocritical reactions to most of today’s challenges, be it gender inequality, racism, dictatorship or deliberate destruction of the Ukrainian people.”

“There is no doubt that we should talk about current reality through our films and through our presence there. But this decision, taken not just by Cannes, made me realize that to many [in this industry], expressing solidarity is one thing – conducting business is quite another.”

Starring Rita Burkovska, his film also “speaks for itself very clearly,” he says, underlining its political position. While not based on a specific story, it was inspired by many harrowing real-life accounts. Including those of war rape victims, as his protagonist finds herself pregnant by one of her tormentors.

“When talking about captivity, many female soldiers would say it was much scarier than death,” says Nakonechnyi, also explaining his decision to focus on a female experience.

“From the beginning of this war, and I mean even before the invasion, it was always about our identity and sovereignty, and these issues have no gender. I met so many women who were aware of their right to defend themselves and their homeland. They took up arms or joined the volunteer movement, they were filming this war or have suffered its consequences.”

In the film, the war isn’t seen only through Lilia’s eyes. It’s filtered through camera lenses, captured by smartphones and drones, commented on and shared.

“Starting with [2014] Revolution of Dignity, we have been experiencing these events also through such images and now, we can talk about ‘the online war.’ By using drone footage, I wanted to show that despite Lilia’s experiences, or maybe because of them, she has a broader view of herself and her reality,” he adds.

But for his protagonist, coming back home is just the beginning. And not everyone, including her countrymen, welcomes her or understands her decisions.

“I knew this could be viewed as controversial, especially now. When you return from the war, people see it as this ‘happy ending,’ but it’s really not the case. It’s hard to live a normal life afterwards, hard to distinguish between a friend and a foe,” he says.

“Many struggle to relate to Lilia’s choices [in the film]. But they should respect them,” he notes, observing some parallels with his country’s difficult situation.

“People provide us with arms and take care of our refugees, which we are grateful for, but our surrender would make them feel comfortable. That’s what we were expected to do, and fast. Instead, we are fighting for our identity and our freedom, and some of our decisions will be unpopular or viewed as radical too,” says Nakonechnyi. Mentioning that while Ukraine’s eventual victory would be joyful, it wouldn’t be the end of its pain.

“Later on, this might be our biggest challenge of all: figuring out how to survive as a society.”

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Butterfly Vision
Courtesy of Tabor Productions

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