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Maidan Documentary Director Sergei Loznitsa: 'It's The People Who Interest Me'

Sergei Loznitsa
"Maidan," a documentary film on the anti-government protests in Ukraine, has premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Acclaimed Belarusian-Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa describes his film as an "epic" portrait of the Kyiv protests that led to the ousting of the country's president, Viktor Yanukovych. The film contains footage shot by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. Loznitsa was the first-ever Ukrainian filmmaker to compete for Cannes' Palme d'Or, making his Cannes debut with a 2010 road movie titled "My Joy."

RFE/RL: There are no individual heroes in your film, no personal story. The camera focusses exclusively on the crowd of protesters, on the masses. Why did you choose this format to tell the story of Kyiv's Maidan protests?

Sergei Loznitsa:
I can't tell this story any other way. When you follow a particular protagonist, it becomes a fact of private life and it gets in the way. To see, you need to take a few steps back. When I would set up the camera, I would make sure that no individual dominated the frame, that each episode was a multifaceted composition where each element is on a par. In this respect, it's an epic film.

RFE/RL: You once said that the first few seconds of a film are crucial. The first three minutes of your film "In The Fog," for instance, took you several months to put together. The opening scene of "Maidan," in which a huge crowd of protesters chants the national anthem, also seems to play an important role. You even show it twice in the film.

Yes, because it's loaded with meaning. It's a very powerful scene. It strikes viewers, it produces a strong impression. I asked the cameraman to fill the entire frame with people, a sea of people.

RFE/RL: This scene is likely to be particularly striking for Russian viewers. It's hard to imagine thousands of Russians simultaneously taking off their hats, pressing their hands to their hearts, and singing the national anthem. In that sense Ukraine is really different from Russia.

This is true. People were constantly singing on Maidan, I was amazed. I can't imagine this happening in Moscow. I'm not sure about the anthem, but the culture of folk songs is dying out. Something very important is disappearing, something that is unique to the nation, the people. This has been preserved in Ukraine. There are so many poets there who read their verses, they do it with such passion, how speech flows! Everyone is ready to join in. [The popular Ukrainian song] "Chervona Ruta" didn't come out very well, we had to record extra audio while we were in Vilnius. We turned to the Ukrainian embassy. Embassy employees came and started singing all together at once, they sang absolutely beautifully. So no, this is not Russia. It's something else.

RFE/RL: What about the other side of the conflict -- Viktor Yanukovych, his allies, the Berkut riot police? They are almost absent from your film. Were you not interested in portraying them?

No, absolutely not. It's the people who interest me, the people.

RFE/RL: Is there a scene in "Maidan" that is particularly important for you?

There's one central, key episode after the gunfire, after troops are repelled from the Maidan. You see a huge number of people removing rubbish and dirt from the square, cleaning, building barricades, bringing tires, distributing water. This was deeply impressive. People lived through something terrible, and you could see it on their faces. The self-organization was impressive, considering that no one was commanding others. The episode in which mourners part with the dead, of course, is also important. I intentionally didn't film the scene, only people.

RFE/RL: What about Independence Square itself? Is its story over?

As a mythological story, of course it's not over. If something goes wrong again, I think it will continue. But this brief historical moment -- from indignation at the leader and government system to the country's liberation from them -- has ended. How the situation evolves from there will depend more on the people than on politicians. People showed how much they could influence politics.

Politicians were constantly trying to jump on the bandwagon. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes not. I think it doesn't actually matter who becomes Ukraine's next president. The ghost of Maidan lingers, this awareness of what can happen if things go awry. And perhaps more importantly, an understanding that nobody can now try to use the security forces against the people."

RFE/RL: There are rumors that you are refusing to talk to Russian media in Cannes. Is this true or is it an exaggeration?

This is no exaggeration. Everything that is being said about Ukraine [in the Russian media] is a complete lie, and I don't want to play a part in it. There's an information war going on and the media are being used as a weapon. And quite successfully so, as far as I can tell.

RFE/RL: Will your film be shown in Russia?

Yes, at some point. I will post in on the Internet because I consider it an educational film. People have to see this.