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“I have faith in the residents of Mariupol”

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Mantas Kvedaravicius • Director


- Cineuropa talks to Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, whose most recent documentary, Mariupolis, took home an award at Vilnius and is now showing at Visions du réel

Mantas Kvedaravicius • Director

Premiered at Berlin this year, Mariupolis is a remarkable and timely documentary focusing on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. In it, Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius examines a city that is close to the disputed region of Donetsk and for whose residents the threat of war is present every day. But Kvedaravicius does not dwell on raging battles or bloody conflict; instead, he finds a population that is carrying on its business as usual. But is this brave stoicism or a refusal to accept political realities?

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Kvedaravicius – whose previous film, Barzakh, proved hugely popular on the festival circuit – recently screened the film in his home country, at the Vilnius International Film Festival. Whilst there, he picked up the Best Director Award for the movie in the festival’s Baltic Gaze competition – the first time that a Lithuanian film has been afforded such an honour at the festival. It is now screening at Visions du réel in Nyon. Cineuropa caught up with Kvedaravicius to ask about the development of and reaction to Mariupolis.

Cineuropa: Tell us a little bit about what made you want to make the film.
Mantas Kvedaravicius:
Mariupolis had been on my conceptual map for a while, for at least the last three years. We were developing the script for another project based in Odessa, Istanbul and Athens, and Mariupol – with its Greek name of Mariupolis [Mariupol has a long history of Greek Orthodox settlers, and many still refer to the city by its Greek name] and Greek communities – seemed to be of particular interest. I came to Mariupol in March 2015 to see what was going on because it had become a front line, and the city was in an ambivalent situation: neither Ukrainian nor pro-Russian. Once I went there, it was obvious that the situation there – with a zoo and a theatre near to the front line – was unique, and something could be conveyed about the way space and politics interact with the human body.

How long did you shoot for?
It took us two weeks to prepare for shooting, and the idea was clear. As we had no proper budget at that point, and no time, we would shoot for a month until 9 May (the traditional Victory Day celebrations), as it was heavily rumoured that the city would be attacked again on this date. We shot for a month: the date came, but luckily no war befell the city at that time. We had a few weeks of reshoots later, but most of the film was shot during that month.

How did the local population react to you?
Mariupolites are the bravest and, in a way, the most upfront people I have met in this region. Even if the city was, and is, somehow divided, there was a certain openness with which people talked about it and in the way they brought us to the various places.

Was it a conscious decision on your part to focus on the day-to-day life of Mariupol, or was that a reaction to what you found there?
The film is, of course, a statement in relation to the various forms of media, including film, that make up the discursive, ideological, spectacular warfare that makes this conflict happen. So in a way, every day was an attempt to distance the representation that I was making from the dominant representation that is almost necessarily ideological – either bluntly or aesthetically speaking. Of course, the representation of war, and the way we come to understand and sense what war is, is also part of this “machine of the spectacle”.

What do you think will happen to Mariupol in the future?
We would need some kind of Greek fortune teller to predict the future of the city. But because I have faith in its residents, I would say it will find – or, rather, defend – its unique place.

What are you working on next?
As I mentioned, I am working on a long-term film project in Athens, Istanbul and Odessa. It has its fair share of the body, madness and politics.

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