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CPH:DOX 2024 CPH:DOX Industry

Kateryna Gornostai • Director of Timestamp

“The main instrument of our work is observation”


- The Ukrainian helmer breaks down the current status of her feature-length project, which won the prestigious Eurimages New Lab Award for Outreach at CPH:DOX

Kateryna Gornostai • Director of Timestamp
(© Nikon Romanchenko)

At this year’s CPH:DOX (13-24 March), the Eurimages New Lab Award for Outreach, worth €30,000, went to the CPH:FORUM project Timestamp, helmed by Kateryna Gornostai, and produced by Olha Beskhmelnytsina, Natalia Libet and Viktor Shevchenko for Ukraine’s 2Brave Productions and Dutch outfit Rinkel Film & Docs (see the news). The Outreach Award is intended to promote public awareness of innovative and experimental projects at the end of production or in post-production. We reached out to the Ukrainian filmmaker, who shared some insights into her latest work and its current status.

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Cineuropa: How would you describe the concept of Timestamp, and what are the main themes tackled in the project?
Kateryna Gornostai:
Timestamp is a feature-length, observational documentary. The purpose of its creation is to explore the educational process during martial law in a country defending itself against the aggressor. The film has a mosaic-like structure: we’ll see what education looks like in the cities close to the frontline. We’ll see how schools are functioning offline, and how teachers work online in the territories where the schools and their own houses were ruined under the Russian occupation.

The main instrument of our work is observation. We don’t use the interview form to get information or narration as a tool to explain to the viewer what’s going on. Instead, we delve into the situation and show it to the viewers, allowing them to feel and relate to what is happening. 

We met Svitlana, a teacher who organised a classroom in the garden of her own house in Borodyanka, which was destroyed in March 2022. We were present when multiple air-raid sirens went off in schools in Kamyanske, Cherkasy and Chernihiv while filming ordinary lessons, and we followed the kids and teachers to the shelters for safety reasons. We went to Kharkiv, which is very close to the border, but school life goes on even under such circumstances. Owing to the threat of shelling, teachers conduct lessons underground, in the metro station. We met the soon-to-be graduates of class 11-D and Boris, a teacher of computer science, who's also actively helping to develop systems for combat drones. The most tragic episode in the film is the funeral in the yard of School #8 in Romny, Sumy region. A Russian drone attack destroyed the school and took the lives of four school employees, including the headteacher. Timestamp will include all of this and other stories in a non-narrative structure, based mainly on the flow of the rhythm and seasonal cycle of a school year.

How will you use the prize money you won?
Mainly, we will use the money to finish the film, but also for our promotional needs.

How important do you think your participation in CPH:DOX was, overall?
Every opportunity to present the modern life of Ukrainians is huge for us. The war is still ongoing. Tonight, Russia tried to attack the Ukrainian energy grid, using missiles and drones, hitting not only infrastructure but also residential buildings, injuring and killing people. Every pitch is a chance for us to remind people about it and to raise awareness. And our project has a special approach because it doesn’t show the war directly. Instead, we see how the war has infiltrated crucial aspects of life, such as school and childhood.

What can you tell us about the visual concept and research work for the project?
Since the main tool of our film is observation, we pay great attention to the quality of the image. Timestamp is definitely a colourful film. The reality of the teachers and kids is bright and warm. We are shooting this film on an ALEXA Mini camera using zoom lenses. This makes it possible to get closer to the characters without interfering in their personal space or disturbing them. The cameraman, Sashko Roshchyn, is responsible for this close and intimate filming of the characters, and he uses close-ups a lot. 

What type of partners are you looking for?
We’re looking for broadcasters, distributors and sales agents.

What’s next for you?
You know, it’s hard to plan things if you’re a Ukrainian person. A lot depends on the situation in the country. But I hope we will finish principal photography by the summer – we have two important trips ahead – and then start the editing process.

Do you know when the film will be ready?
The beginning of next year is the goal.

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