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KARLOVY VARY 2024 Special Screenings

Oleh Sentsov • Director of Real

“I would not dare call this a movie”


- The Ukrainian director breaks down the making of his real-life record of war and the Russian invasion, captured accidentally with his military GoPro

Oleh Sentsov  • Director of Real
(© Film Servis Karlovy Vary)

Filmmaker, activist and soldier Oleh Sentsov has been on leave from the Ukrainian army to present Real [+see also:
film review
interview: Oleh Sentsov
film profile
as a Special Screening at the Karlovy Vary IFF, and this is where Cineuropa met up with him. Real is a 90-minute film that his GoPro captured during a military operation of the same name, where Sentsov, as a lieutenant, had to coordinate parts of his unit’s evacuation after being cut off and left with no ammunition.

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Cineuropa: The last time we spoke, you were premiering Rhino [+see also:
film review
film profile
at Venice in 2021, which was obviously before the invasion. How does it feel to be back in a festival context again?
Oleh Sentsov:
It's the first festival since that time at Venice, and honestly, I'm very happy to be here and decompress after all the happenings that I have endured in the last two years.

Of course, talking about the film means talking about the war and your experiences there…
The war has been my life for the last two-and-a-half years or so, so this is me talking about my life and living it.

But does talking about it get any easier?
Oh my goodness, it's so much easier to talk about war than it is to carry a gun or to be held at gunpoint!

You discovered the footage from the Real operation and decided to turn it into a film, unedited. What is GoPro used for on the ground?
Well, there are many of us in the force who carry a GoPro. I always have one affixed to my helmet. But the thing is that a GoPro can only record for an hour and a half. When you are in a very dangerous, stressful situation, as a commander, you prioritise saving people and giving the right orders to make sure everything goes the right way. So you wouldn’t think about capturing it on a GoPro. I did so quite a bit at other times, though. We have some short video footage, but not from a dangerous situation, simply because it's a question of priorities.

You say Real is not a film, or an “accidental” film at best. Do you think granting it “film status” may add to or take something away from it?
I cannot call this a film, because I envision a film being made in a very rigorous way. It’s a movie when you plan something, record it, prepare and edit it; you always know why you’re doing it and what the reason behind it is. This one [Real] is just raw material; it has no beginning and no end. And, for example, a combination of such materials could potentially be needed to create interesting movies. But right now, this piece hasn't been edited. It's just a moment [of war], so I would not dare call it a movie. I could pretend that this is a completely new development in filmmaking, that it's something postmodern or maybe some kind of future reference for a niche that I have discovered, but I’m not doing that.

The Russian invasion and the war have certainly changed the world and countless people like yourself, but do you think it has changed you as a director?
War changes everybody. Any sort of big life event does, but for someone who is in an active battle, it's even more vivid and true. As for me, I'm a mature human being, so it's much harder to alter my personality, but I would say that it's changed me beyond words.

Real is not an easy film to watch, and it was never supposed to be. What are your plans to share it with wider audiences outside of the festival?
Of course, we would love this to be seen by as many people as possible, even if only to give a genuine understanding of what war is like and what it means to be in one. I'm pretty sure that Real will be shown at more festivals, and there will be more special screenings, but I can’t currently imagine a commercial release for it. Of course, we have that as a goal, while keeping in mind that it's probably not an easy movie to distribute in the conventional sense.

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