Piotr Pawlus and Tomasz Wolski’s observational documentary film In Ukraine provides a glimpse of quotidian life in a war zone.
We interview Tomasz Wolski about his stop-motion animated documentary 1970 in our ebook Subjective realities: The art of creative nonfiction film. The book is available for purchase here. Download a free excerpt of the book here.
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P iotr Pawlus and Tomasz Wolski’s observational documentary In Ukraine is the best and most harrowing film I’ve seen about the Ukraine War because it focuses on the banal. It’s the opposite of what you’ll see on the news: no maps, dates, or events. But it’s a window into daily life in a war zone — the things we’ve heard about in World War II stories but haven’t actually seen.
Pawlus and Wolski ask, what is it like to live in a war zone where bombs and tanks have become just another thing that happens on a day that ends in ‘y’. Told through a series of long, still takes, Wolski paints a portrait of a society where things crumble everywhere, yet life goes on. A woman stops her car to get out and take a selfie with an abandoned Russian tank. She’s not the only one. Speed walkers make their morning rounds amidst hollowed-out buildings from recent bombings. People at a bus stop take a detour to the subway tunnels when the bomb siren goes off. Underground, there are cots, food, water — and many maskless people probably spreading COVID.
People go to work, find parts of their bikes stolen, and queue for too-small food rations. And yet, they’re exhausted because they spend so many evenings hiding in bomb shelters. They can’t afford to buy gas for their cars. The film’s final shot lingers on an apartment building missing a large chunk from a bomb. The camera pulls back, reminding us that just because people become numb to destruction everywhere to survive doesn’t mean the danger is gone.
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Pawlus and Wolski won Special Mention in the International Feature Film Competition at the Festival. He won the competition in 2021 with his stop-motion animated documentary 1970. 1970 was about the workers’ strike in Poland. He used the animation to bring a series of recorded phone calls to life. The calls were between people at high levels of government discussing how to suppress the worker demonstration. An interview with Wolski about animating 1970 appears in our ebook Subjective Realities: The Art of Creative Nonfiction Film.
The filming strategies in In Ukraine are a departure from the animated documentary film 1970
The filming strategies of In Ukraine couldn’t be more different from 1970: all on-the-ground images rather than recreations in a studio. Whereas 1970 featured images designed to help you focus on the dialogue in the phone calls, dialogue in In Ukraine is secondary to images. We don’t listen to many conversations so much as get a sense of the city’s ecosystem in adverse conditions. People keep going, but only just.
Explore creative nonfiction film: Get our ebook Subjective Realities: The art of creative nonfiction film. Through essays and interviews with some of the most important innovators in documentary form, discover the possibilities of creative nonfiction.
The book features an in-depth interview with Tomasz Wolski on his documentary film 1970, which he made before In Ukraine. The interview is part of a case study on animated documentary.