Why we are still organizing a film festival in Ukraine

Alika Kharchenko is the communication manager of the Kyiv International Short Film Festival, as well as the head of the distribution company KyivMusicFilm and the new online cinema TYTR. In the article below, she talks about KISFF’s perseverance during the Russian invasion.

Kyiv International Short Film Festival is the largest short film festival in Ukraine. It has been operating since 2011 and annually screens more than 250 films from around the world. Nothing has stopped KISFF from the start: neither the revolution in Ukraine in 2014, nor the economic crisis, nor the global shutdowns. The festival team has always believed that whatever happens, you have to stay strong and unite around culture.

For our next edition, in 2022, KISFF has planned some major program and organizational updates. But on February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale war in Ukraine.

Despite some warnings, we couldn’t believe we would ever wake up to war. We had heard that Russia “had plans” for Ukraine, but we thought we would have time to move somewhere west before something bad happened. But that day, we woke up with explosions, right in kyiv.

For a few weeks we were numb. Everything closed – theaters, cafes – and even in the west of the country, nothing of our cultural life remained. We couldn’t work because the film screenings couldn’t take place. We were in shock, trying to process everything.

However, life in many Ukrainian cities is returning to normal – or, better said, the new normal. In unoccupied areas, cafes, restaurants, gyms, theaters and cinemas are starting to reopen. Of course, nothing is as before. Sometimes a screening has to stop because of an air raid siren, so people can hide in bomb shelters.

But Ukrainians are doing everything to make the country’s economy work and to support each other – and to make everything work.

It is in this context that we wonder whether to organize the next edition of KISFF.

As we’ve all moved to different places, we’ve had many Zoom chats – and decided that one of the ways to help the country is to do what we can do best: organize our film festival.

The event will provide financial support to the country and our colleagues, and also contribute to people’s cultural life.

Culture is one of the essential aspects of being, even during war. At least as long as it is possible to celebrate it. The festival will continue our cultural diplomacy, connecting people around the world through cinema and promoting Ukrainian culture around the world. The festival will also support Ukrainian filmmakers affected by the war.

Of course, we have to deal with crucial questions, both practical and theoretical. Our biggest obstacle is the unknown. The next edition was scheduled for September, but would the festival make sense by then? The situation in Ukraine has changed dramatically over the past two months, so we can only imagine what will happen here by September. In northern and eastern Ukraine, some cinemas have already been destroyed by the missiles. Will those of kyiv stay? If so, will people willingly attend film screenings? Will they be safe enough? Will people spend their money on entertainment?

These are just some of the questions we cannot find answers to.

Yet we are committed to organizing the festival – or at the very least holding it online. Then there is the question of programming.

We have to be very careful when programming the program this year, because people have become very sensitive to many topics. We want to keep the balance between thinking about the current situation in society and its pressure points, while giving people a space to take a break from the horrible things they face every day.

“How can we make movies after everything we saw in Bucha? is a fairly common thought among Ukrainian filmmakers these days. He recalls the quote from Theodor Adorno, “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”. What will make sense to Ukrainians now?

Another focus of the festival this year is fundraising. We used to raise funds through ticket sales, support from international cultural institutions, government and commercial sponsors. We can hardly rely on these sources this year, although some international emergency funds are offering help now. We are counting on them a lot for this year’s edition.

Of course, there are many other concerns, many of which relate to security. If the war continues, the men of our team may have to join the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In addition, our entire team remains in Ukraine. We hear of air raids every day in every city and Russian missile attacks are hitting all over the country. We can never feel completely safe.

If you want to support Ukraine, you can donate here. Supporting the armed forces is the most important task for Ukraine, because the better we defend now, the fewer people will need humanitarian aid later.

Glory to Ukraine!

Darcy J. Skinner