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SUNDANCE 2020 World Cinema Documentary Competition

Iryna Tsilyk • Director of The Earth Is Blue as an Orange

“For a documentary, you need to spend as much time as possible with the characters you portray”


- We spoke to Ukrainian director and author Iryna Tsilyk after the world premiere of her debut full-length documentary, The Earth Is Blue as an Orange, at Sundance

Iryna Tsilyk  • Director of The Earth Is Blue as an Orange
(© Sundance Institute)

The documentary The Earth Is Blue as an Orange [+see also:
film review
interview: Iryna Tsilyk
film profile
is a Lithuanian-Ukrainian production and has just been presented in the World Cinema Documentary Competition of this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award. In it, director and author Iryna Tsilyk portrays a family living in Donbass’ “red zone”, who are brave enough to face the hardships of life despite the difficult circumstances in the war zone.

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Cineuropa: How did you find the family that stars in your film?
Iryna Tsilyk: We have a very cool volunteer project in Ukraine, which is called “Yellow Bus”: different professional filmmakers arrange film camps and workshops for teenagers in the war zone. Once, I went there as a tutor and considered making a film about this awesome project. But then I met two girls, the sisters Myroslava and Nastia Trofymchuk, in one of the camps. They invited me and my team to visit their home in a small town called Krasnohorivka [located in the “red zone” of Donbass, one of the most dangerous and most devastated areas]. We arrived there and fell in love with their family. The mother of the girls, Hanna, is a single mother. She has four children in total. During 2014-2015, the family slept in the cellar of their house almost every night because of the shelling. In 2017, the secondary school where the girls used to study was also bombed. But despite all of these horrific circumstances, the family is really cheerful. All of the children play different musical instruments and shoot amateur films about themselves. Moreover, Hanna learned the process of film editing on her own and helps her children to make their videos. So, when my DoP, my sound engineer and I went there in the beginning, we immediately realised that we could shoot a film about this incredible family.

Are you still in contact with them? What has become of the different family members?
We are still in a very friendly relationship. My biggest dream was to invite Hanna, as well as her children, to participate in some big festivals. Hanna has never been abroad, so I dream of opening some doors to other worlds for her. But there have been some unforeseen circumstances. Hanna is expecting a baby and will become a mother for the fifth time! So the festivals will have to wait a bit for now. But her eldest daughter, Myroslava, came to the world premiere at Sundance, joining the film crew there. She is studying to become a DoP now, so you can just imagine how cool it must have been for a student to attend such a significant festival.

How long was the shoot, and were you in danger at any point?
We observed the family for one year. We came to Krasnohorivka again and again, we lived in the same house as our protagonists, and then we became their friends and even part of the family, too. I realised that, for a documentary, you need to do everything in your power to spend as much time as possible with the characters you portray.

It's difficult to say whether we were in any real danger. One night, a landmine flew into the neighbours’ house, and another film team that was there filmed it. Besides that, Donbass wasn’t new to me. I used to come to the front line for my poetic performances; my husband was a soldier in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Also, my previous films [the short documentaries Tayra and Kid] addressed women fighting during the war. I got used to the different sounds of war. But, you know, safety is a matter of luck there. And fortunately, I have never been in any real danger in Donbass.

Do you know what became of the film that the family made? Is there a chance that it will be screened to a broader audience?
Last year, our characters held a screening of their short film 2014 for the residents of their hometown, Krasnohorivka, but then they decided that the film still needed to be improved. Therefore, the process is still ongoing, which is a pity. Since my movie is finished already, I offered to support them by helping with the English subtitles, for example. I really hope that they can finish it, and I’ll teach them how they could apply to different student and short-film festivals with it. Anyway, since Myroslava is studying to be a cinematographer and Nastia is going to enter a film school as a director, I hope they will make new films and surprise us even more.

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