Aleksandr Techinskij: “Let Everyone Think a Little More About What Took Place”

In the documentary "All Things Ablaze," Euromaydan protesters succumb to mass psychosis, crush cars, and are set on fire. Bird In Flight spoke with the creators of the film – Aleksandr Techinskij, Aleksey Solodunov, and Dmitri Stojkov – about why they decided to show all of this.

The film “All Things Ablaze” differs greatly from other documentaries dedicated to the events of Maydan. Instead of the usual touching stories about the “dignity of the revolution,” it’s 82 minutes of evidence of mass insanity: beating captive Berkut officers, vandalism, and popping off firearms. In the authors’ own view, “All Things Ablaze” is about how people who, at first, wanted to break free from oppression faced with the reluctance of authorities who didn’t listen to them or change anything, and then how the righteous crowd’s anger turns into rage. It’s about how the first bloodshed blurs the line between good and evil, and then everything burns.

The world premiere of the film took place at the Leipzig documentary and animation film festival, DOK Leipzig (the work was awarded channel MDR’s “Outstanding Eastern-European Film” award). In Ukraine, rental tapes of the film started showing at the Docudays UA festival. At the moment, “All Things Ablaze” can be seen at twenty movie theaters in Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Lvov, Ternopol, Zhitomir, and Lutsk. Bird In Flight spoke with the creators of the film, former photojournalists Aleksandr Techinskij, Aleksey Solodunov, and Dmitri Stojkov, about what reactions they faced in Europe and the reception they expect from Ukrainian audiences, about their personal relationship to Maydan, and whether or not their work can become a godsend for Russian propaganda.

You shot a film about irrational aggression, one crowd’s force against another crowd’s force. How do you yourselves relate to the events of Maydan? Did you participate in the protests?

Aleksey Solodunov:Our participation amounts to this: we went out and filmed it. Maybe you can call that a protest. And our thoughts on the events changed with the development of those same events. When the students went out, our attitude was pretty positive. Then, when they got beaten up, when there were serious clashes, the mood changed. When you shoot a film, you’re always a little on the side of the people you’re filming – enough to be able to negotiate with them and to get along.

Dmitri Stojkov: It’s impossible to be a journalist and a participant in an event at the same time. If you’re a participant, you have a position. When you have a position, there’s no objectivity left.

Aleksandr Techinskij: Journalists who take a position and take part in an event need to be ready to answer the question whether they’re real journalists or not. I, for one, can’t understand how you can write “Journalist, Citizen Activist” in the same line, and we do it often. When everything went to hell, I asked myself, “What the hell are they doing? What’s the plan? OK, we’re throwing stones – why? What next?” There was no plan, just emotions. I doubt that anyone knew where all this was leading. So we filmed, exactly how we felt the situation progressing.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/videomaidan01.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “Aleksey Solodunov, Dmitri Stojkov, Aleksandr Techinskij”}

Did you, or the people you were filming, absorb the aggression of the crowd around you?

Aleksandr Techinskij: Aggression is like an infection. Normal, sane, well-educated people feel this momentarily, like a virus. They lose it and let everything burn. It’s like a zombie movie when everyone around you is also turning into a zombie. Although, I think the three of us have an immunity to this infection, because we shot everything the way we wanted to. It turned out that we didn’t put down our cameras or trade them for clubs. Maybe it has something to do with the long history of the journalistic profession. Maybe we have this immunity as a result of becoming journalists.

Aleksey Solodunov: Each person went there with their own purpose. Our purpose was to shoot a film, not to throw rocks. And we filmed it. Even still, we saw a ton of people there who came with no purpose.

Dmitri Stojkov: The idea of throwing rocks never once occurred to me. The same way it never occurred to me to drop my camera and protect someone else.

I just wanted to ask you if there was ever a moment when, perhaps, it was worth it to stop filming and intervene in the situation, for example, to protect someone.

Алексей Солодунов: We protected each other – we gave each other directions, shielded each other. In general, what we were doing there was to protect people. Protection for the future. We could have hardly defended people or stopped them from getting hit in those exact moments. And still there is the question of who to protect from whom. Still, all of our work goes to the point that later, when everyone cools down and looks at what is happening from the sidelines. It will become clear to them that protests can be different and changes should be enacted in other fashions.

Aleksandr Techinskij: We can’t protect people from themselves. This has gone too far. People are burned out. After all, we still don’t know whether we got something as a result of all these events. However, we do have hundreds of wonderful people who are now dead. These people will never embrace their loved ones again. We lost those people. We paid that price and still don’t know for what. We always have a need to justify facts, and until now there’s only one fact – a ton of bodies.

If you didn’t take part in the protests and didn’t plan on going to Maydan, as it seemed during the first gatherings, how did you start filming?

Aleksandr Techinskij: A lot of time in journalism. Of course we couldn’t just walk past it. People, slogans, the feeling that something important was going on. The German journalist Konrad Schuller, who writes for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, arrived on Maydan pretty quickly. I’ve been collaborating with that newspaper for quite a while, and we were doing short reportages for them from the first day.

Aleksey Solodunov: Thanks to our collaboration with that newspaper we had an apartment in the center of Kiev where we could go to, edit, sleep and energize. However, we worked the way we saw necessary. We filmed what we wanted to. We showed what we thought was important. There were no amendments.

How did you determine and plan your work? When did you get the idea to make a full-length film?

Aleksandr Techinskij: It was me who started to muddy the waters. I already have experience in film. When things started happening on Hrushevskoho in mid-January, I realized that we could have something huge here. We had no clue what we were shooting. There wasn’t a scenario in my head, no knowledge, just a feeling. We do, however, know what we’re doing when we film. After all, we’re all photographers. We have a lot of colleagues who sit down after photo shoots and can’t decide which frames to choose. This really annoys me – why the hell did you film anything, then? Where were you going, what goals did you set, how did you set the frame? When I worked in editing, coming back from a shoot, I knew exactly which frame I liked and which one the newspaper would choose and why. Sometimes our choices coincided. That’s why, while lacking a specific plot for the film, we did quality filming and knew exactly what we filmed, and when we sat down to edit, we knew each other’s material inside-out and understood how to build the story. Sometimes we had difficulty separating parts that were organically connected to each other.

We’re not claiming to be a history book.

Dmitri Stojkov: I never believed that this would turn into a film. Actually, I didn’t get how it could be – a movie without protagonists, build-up, denouement, or climax. Now I get it. The work, a hot iron, and Guadeloupe rum convinced me. After we decided to do a film, I even tried to shoot people’s comments, chat with them, and do recording. You can’t have a movie without words, right! It seems like I didn’t let anyone see that stuff. Now I’m one hundred percent satisfied with the result. We’ve known and worked with each other for a long time. We didn’t need to agree on planning our shoots. One guy works, another guy sleeps. When you’ve slept enough, you go shoot something. Remember, when they were promising us an assault every day, we had to wait for it while freezing in the streets after midnight. Sometimes nothing happened, and other times we got to shoot something much more important than an assault.

Aleksandr Techinskij: When they knocked over Lenin, we ran there with Dima. I quickly filmed a clip and then ran back to send it to the newspaper, and Dima stayed there for five hours and filmed a communist who was trying to cover up the fallen monument. Each of us has his own flair. One time, Lyosha felt that he should stay behind Berkut’s ranks and film their actions, so he stayed. In another case I felt like I needed to get away from the crowd along Institutskoy. I knew very well that there was no good way out from that scene. I hesitated a second, thought, and realized that I could do it, so I jumped and ran.

The moment when the communist was defending the fallen Lenin statue with tears in his eyes, so that the monument wouldn’t be turned into souvenirs, was one of the most touching in the film. Dima, did you feel sorry for him?

Dmitri Stojkov: I felt very sorry for him. Here’s a guy, he seems normal enough if you don’t take into account his beliefs, but then again, beliefs are a personal matter. He’s surrounded by a madhouse, and he has to be the one person in that chaos who keeps himself together. It’s a very strong empathy, and I hope he’s survived it all, somehow.

The film missed some key moments: the beating of students, the march of millions, the first two deaths. These moments are important for the chronology of the development of events. Was the material that you provided for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung presented in the same fashion?

Aleksandr Techinskij: We didn’t miss any key moments. We have the student beatings. There’s a part in the film with the title, “Student Beatings.” The titles are there for people to read them. I’ve already heard this several times at discussions, and after the premiere Natalia Humenyuk herself said that key moments in the development of events were missing. But the movie is dominated by key moments – when everyone was freaking out. The outcome – hundreds of bodies. Every person will look for all the other moments, and we’re not claiming to be a history book. We filmed things the same way for the Germans: one short story every day, a story that we saw and felt that it was important to catch it.

How do people react to the film? Are you offended that your work hasn’t won any awards in Ukraine?

Dmitri Stojkov: People in Ukraine weren’t ready for this film. They came to see something about themselves. Look at us, look at what we did, what we accomplished. They didn’t expect to see what we showed them. Some people said that the film wasn’t patriotic enough, and that we didn’t take a position.

The film doesn’t condemn anyone. Even in Germany someone said that you might see it on Russia Today.

Aleksey Solodunov: For us, an award in Ukraine is that the film can be rented. For me an even bigger award would be if the film is showed on TV. Now, people are going to movie theaters to watch other movies, unfortunately. If people aren’t going to movie theaters to watch documentaries, then it would be good if the documentaries go directly to the audience. We already presented the film on channel ARTE. Yes, in France, in Germany, and here we have different kinds of programs, but it’s time to change something and make room for something new. We don’t need that much room, only 82 minutes.

Aleksandr Techinskij: People who didn’t understand the movie just didn’t get it. Some people have suggestions about editing, and others think that we didn’t approach the filming in an ideologically sound manner – what can we do about that? Everyone has the right to watch a movie and draw his own conclusions. However, the film doesn’t condemn anyone. Even in Germany someone said that you might see it on Russia Today.

By the way, the film might be taken as Russian propaganda. Did you understand this when you were filming? If someone offered to show the movie in Russia, would you agree to it?

Aleksandr Techinskij: When we were working on the film, we were trying to stay honest with ourselves first and foremost, and that is probably what we were thinking about the most. After Leipzig, we were offered to show the film in Moscow to a small circle of understanding, sympathetic people, but we refused to consider this until the premiere in Ukraine. Honestly, I don’t really want to think about this even now. We didn’t allow the possibility of Russians watching this online. And about Russian propaganda, they have everything in their arsenal, from bullfinches to the Holy Scriptures, so why do we need to worry about it? We need to worry about ourselves, our own country, and how we understand what happens here.

Did you make money on the movie? Are you counting on making money on the rentals?

Aleksandr Techinskij: I bought a bicycle. Dima fixed up his car.

Aleksey Solodunov: We’d like to make something, but until now, everything that we made from this film in terms of money amounts to nothing. Enough for a few nights out to discuss the movie over some strong drinks. So for us, it’s primarily a fantasy. There’s not much hope for the rentals either, to be honest.

What do you expect from the film now that it’s ready and released on screen? What was it all for?

Aleksandr Techinskij: Let everyone think a little more about what took place. People have different desires, for example, to do Maydan for a third time. I’d like for people to think long and hard about whether they need a third, fourth, or fifth Maydan. Just maybe we would protest less and indulge in aggression less, and more changes would happen in our minds. You need to think, learn, and keep yourself together. Don’t live too fast, and when you do – don’t bribe the cops, don’t spit on the floor, and don’t be a douchebag to the old ladies on the bus. Be a human.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/videomaidan021.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “A scene from the film All Things Ablaze”}

How do you shoot a good documentary?

Dmitri Stojkov: Don’t be afraid to do what you do well, even if it’s something new. For example, a film with no words. I couldn’t accept it for a long time. It’s also important not to be afraid of combining things that seem incompatible, just like, for me, the story with the Lenin statue seemed incompatible with the rest of the film. Now I agree, of course, that everything is in its right place.

Aleksey Solodunov: Trust is important. You need to trust yourself completely, trust each others, trust the material. It’s very comfortable for me to work when there is no dependence, even financial; when there are no tasks, even with equipment – you just provide them yourself. For an easy job, you need some kind of system where you can just give, but there’s no need for any return.

Aleksandr Techinskij: We probably don’t know how to do it. We did something right; it turned out that we did everything right. I’d sum up the whole process with the motto: “Don’t piss yourself.” And the second motto: “Listen to yourself.” And, of course, “Find your people and relax.” I found my people, you can see.

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