On February 2, the Ukrainian director Irina Tsilyk received the award for best director of the documentary film "The Earth is Black, Nibi Orange" at the American Sundance Film Festival. For the first time in the history of Ukrainian cinema, the film of the Ukrainian director was presented in the competitive program of the famous and largest festival of independent cinema in the USA. For Irina Tsilyk, the picture was the first full-length film.
We met with Irina to find out from her what emotions you feel from winning the most prestigious independent film festival, about participating in the Berlinale and the Ukrainian premiere at Docudays UA.
Work on the film "Earth is black, orange is orange" began in 2017 with a call from producer Anna Kapustina. She said two words that immediately worked for me: “Donbass” and “children”. This was enough to make a spontaneous decision and jump into it all. Initially, I took up a documentary about the Yellow Bus volunteer project, in the framework of which filmmakers bring knowledge to the Donbass – organize workshops and workshops for teenagers. It’s clear that in a few days you won’t learn how to make a movie, but these children have come up with a script for a week before our eyes, made and edited the film, the premiere took place at their school, it was amazing because the children who didn’t even know each other, turned into a real team. And, of course, it is worth considering in which locations this happens. For example, in Avdeevka shots were heard every day, to which the children no longer respond at all, or the shooting took place near the minefields, and the guys constantly reminded us that we should not go into these dead zones. It so happened that I was going to make a film about this, but then the operator and I accidentally got into the house of two sisters from Krasnogorovka who took part in the "Yellow Bus", and we just fell in love with the atmosphere of this house and immediately realized what we could take off a full meter.
The main characters of our film are a very interesting family. Mom and four children – two teenage girls and two boys 6 and 8 years old, they live in a military zone, 2014-2015 were very difficult for them, but somehow they kept incredible cheerfulness. All children play different musical instruments, mom, 36-year-old Anna, is an incredibly strong personality on whom everything rests, and she energizes and organizes the whole space around. They are very friendly, and it is very felt. For example, when we once brought the hotel, one of the sons shared a banana – and he quickly calculated how many people were in the house, including our film crew, and divided the banana into everyone, they were so accustomed, it struck me, of course.
We immediately realized that an unusual story might turn out based on their passion for filming movies, because after the older girls took part in movie camps, they were all very interested, they even got a little family production, they tried to shoot small clips, then movies. Mom herself learned to mount on self-training programs on the Internet, during their filming, in fact, she was their director and producer. Recently, she runs a studio at a local art school, it's all "Yellow Bus" sowed such a grain. My older sister Miroslava dreamed of becoming a cameraman and, as a result, entered the camera department in Kiev, we show all this in the film, now she is in the 2nd year and went with us to Sundance.
This is my first big movie experience. Moreover, documentary for me is something new, but I came to the conclusion: if you are shooting a portrait film, you need to do everything to spend as much time as possible with the characters. Now, in the days of instagram, in order to see people as they are, you need to become a part of their life. The cameraman and sound engineer and I came to Krasnogorovka to our heroes very often, they lived in their house for a long time. They are so used to us that we have become part of their family.
Viewers who have already seen the film say that it turned out unexpected and bright. It seems to me that this is because it shows a theme from a completely different, unusual side, because there is no war as such in the film, the film takes place in the front-line zone, but this is a universal story about how to preserve humanity in difficult times. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war or other difficult circumstances.
The film is multi-layered, it raises various questions, including “does art have at least some power at a time when you really have to survive”? I ask myself myself too – I do literature and cinema – and ask myself if this makes sense and whether it benefits, no matter how pathetic it sounds.
Before that, I shot four short films, three of which were feature films. I am convinced that I will return to feature films, but documentary is amazing, I fell in love simply, because you can do a lot, this is living matter with which you need to look for contact, documentary is always a challenge.
What scares me a lot about documentaries is that it cannot be completely controlled. By shooting a feature film, you create reality the way you want, and in the documentary you can provoke and control a lot, but you are afraid to injure people, because these are not actors. As in any relationship, it has its own amplitude of falls and take-offs, and we also had moments when it seemed that we were at a dead end during the filming, it was not easy.
This project gave me more confidence in myself, I felt the director in myself and realized that I can do a lot. Now I have an understanding that our capabilities are not limited to Ukraine and you can count not only on yourself, but on producers, on international projects, you just need to do everything right. Now I am aiming for a new film project, while I have not even formulated what it will be, but in parallel I want to start working on a feature film, because how much can I wait? There are ideas, and they need to be implemented.
Read about Irina Tsilyk in the February issue of L'Officiel Ukraine.
See also: Ukrainian received the award for best directing at the Sundance Film Festival