Taras Tomenko • Director of Boney Piles
“Each of these children had a dramatic story, but what I saw in Nastya really touched me”
by Teresa Vena
- The Ukrainian director discusses his latest documentary, which is dedicated to a whole generation of children living in wartime
After a premiere at this year's Berlinale, Boney Piles [+see also:
interview: Taras Tomenko
film profile] was recently shown at the goEast Film Festival in Wiesbaden, where it won the Award for Best Documentary (see the news). We met up with Ukrainian director Taras Tomenko, who shared some of his thoughts about his film and how topical it is.
Cineuropa: Were you familiar with the region before you started making the film?
Taras Tomenko: Yes, I am familiar with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions because back in 2014, I had the opportunity to shoot a military film, and we paid a great deal of attention to the topic of children. I know the specifics of this region because it’s a mining area. It is a depressed place because some call it a “grey area”, which is constantly under fire. I was interested in how people can survive in these circumstances. But the paradox is that, since 24 February this year, the whole of Ukraine has become such a “grey zone”, a hot spot on the planet. The paradox is that we are all now in Ukraine. Nastya lost her home and lost her family – now, almost every family has suffered such heavy losses, and therefore, this film was a prediction of current events.
What were the most important aspects you wanted to talk about?
Our film explores the lives of children during the war. An adult can dispense advice, but it is very difficult, and a child is absolutely unable to react to hostilities or shelling. Nastya's tragedy, the death of her father, happened in 2015. During filming, she got used to living with her family in Donetsk and Luhansk, in the Donbas. They completely stopped taking any notice of the war. It has become commonplace; it has become like a landscape outside the window. People stopped sensing the danger, and before the second phase of the war, which took place on 24 February this year, this topic had been forgotten. It had left the media and the front pages of the newspapers, and had vanished into oblivion. In fact, we wanted to remind people with this film that 40,000 children were in the “grey zone” at that time.
How did you develop the concept of the film?
We observed the lives of five or six children and their families. We shot a lot of material, and before we met Nastya, the concept was still wide open. Each of these children had a dramatic story, but what I saw in Nastya really touched me. Her drama seemed all-encompassing to me; it seemed like it could be a projection of many children’s situations in Ukraine. So we made Nastya the main character.
How did you initially get to know these kids?
We met Nastya by accident. Our car broke down, and suddenly she appeared, looked at us and said: “If you want, I can show you my house.” The cameraman's camera was turned on, and we filmed this episode in which she gave us a tour of her ruined house and actually showed us what happened in 2015. And when we arrived and started reviewing the material, we unanimously decided that she would be the heroine of our film.
Music and lyrics are very important in the world of your protagonists. What role do you think all this plays in their growth and development?
It should be noted that Nastya is suffering from psychological trauma. She tries to avoid communicating with this world and flees to the world of the internet instead. She lives within it, and TikTok is the only joy she has: she downloads songs from the internet and sings them, as this is the only thing she has in life.
How much time did you spend in the region?
In 2014, my team and I began to film the developments in the Donbas war zone. We travelled a lot along the front line, together with a mine-clearance mission. We visited schools, nurseries and foster homes, where we staged theatrical performances for kids to teach them to keep away from ammunition.
What is the message you wish to convey with the film?
The war has been going on for more than eight years, keeping people in constant, lethal danger. Children are especially at risk. There is an episode in our film showing the first day of the school year, on 1 September. Those kids who are going to school for the first time were born in wartime and haven’t seen a single day of peace. We have a whole generation born in wartime. In addition to the horrors of war, we were deeply touched by their defencelessness. I saw a lot of children whose limbs had been torn off, whose parents had been killed in this war, or whose homes had been destroyed. That’s what Putin’s hybrid warfare policy has brought to our land. And with this film, we want to cry out loud to the world so that Putin will stop the war that he has unleashed on Ukraine.
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