Ukraine filmmaker and Cannes winner Sergei Loznitsa made headlines recently for writing an open letter condemning the European Film Academy’s initially lax response to the Ukraine war, and promptly dropped out of the organization. Later, the Academy announced it would exclude Russian films from consideration for its 2022 awards. He was later expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy, with its leadership citing that “we have tirelessly called on the global film community to boycott Russian cinema. But Sergei Loznitsa publicly opposes this, thus denying the Russians’ collective responsibility for the war their country unleashed in Ukraine.”
Now, even as he stands in support of dissident Russian filmmakers, the director of films including 2012 Palme d’Or nominee “In the Fog” is getting a reconsideration in the West. His pitch-black 2018 satire “Donbass” won the Best Director in the Un Certain Regard category that year in Cannes, but hasn’t seen a U.S. theatrical release since. It was also Ukraine’s Oscar submission that year. Now, Film Movement is finally releasing the film stateside for the first time in New York and L.A. on April 8, with a national rollout to follow. IndieWire has the exclusive trailer for the release below.
“Donbass” examines the mid-2010s separatist conflict in the titular region of Eastern Ukraine across a narrative split into 13 episodes that look at the war-torn region from all angles — splinter military factions, everyday citizens, and outsider journalists. “Donbass” offers a unique perspective on the recent history of Eastern Ukraine that now provides cinematic context for the ongoing war, examining Ukraine’s fractured national identity and self-justification in the face of brutal forces.
Memorable scenes include a prologue featuring actors hired to give fake news testimony from inside a bomb shelter. In another sequence, a man arrives at a police station to recover his stolen vehicle — and is then told it was confiscated by separatists. In another moment, a Ukrainian POW is tethered to a pole as hordes of separatists gather to lash out at him.
“As far as Ukrainians are concerned, the war has been going for eight years already,” Loznitsa recently told IndieWire. While the director left Ukraine nearly two decades ago, he still returns frequently to work on projects and see his parents. “In a way, psychologically, Ukrainians have become almost used to this situation of living in a potentially dangerous wartime condition.”
If Putin succeeds, Losnitza said, “People will be subjected to the same kind of corruption — moral and mental alike — as they did during the Iron Curtain. The most important thing that happens during these times is what happens to people’s morals, as they become comfortable doing evil things, just like what the authorities are doing to them.”
Look for “Donbass” in theaters April 8, and watch the trailer below.