Recently in Documentary Film Category

From 1932-1933, approximately 6-8 million (perhaps even 12 million) Ukrainians perished from forced starvation. Also known as the Holodomor or Great Famine, this "forced" famine is considered by many to be a form of genocide. This catastrophe was a type of terrorism implemented as part of Josef Stalin's collectivism policies. In essence, these Soviet policies attempted to force independent farmers into collective farms.

My friend Damian Kolodiy, creator of the documentary film "The Orange Chronicles" about Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, has posted the following excerpts of recently conducted interviews with survivors of the 1932-1933 forced famine genocide in Ukraine. He hopes to eventually turn his interview footage into a new documentary.


Chernobyl & Pripyat 2007 - Video

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Herer's a "new" video from Chernobyl and Pripyat in 2007 (from the site medicinefilms.com):


Orange Revolution Documentary Films

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I recently had the opportunity to view two documentary films about Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Both films were released in 2007 and take different approaches in their coverage of the events surrounding the mass protests.

Steve York’s “Orange Revolution” is a combination of archival footage and film shot by York with a handheld camera. This film covers the election campaign and concludes with Yushchenko’s hard fought victory.

Orange Chronicles TAKThe second film is Damian Kolody’s “The Orange Chronicles.” Kolody, whose family comes from Ukraine, went to Ukraine as an election observer and shot the movie with handheld cameras. This technique puts the audience right in the middle of the action. Quite notable in this film are rare scenes from Ukraine’s pro-Russian, pro-Blue south and east.

Orange Chronicles Ind Square







Both films are quite good, but my preference is “The Orange Chronicles.” The handheld camera techniques used throughout the film make it seem less polished than “Orange Revolution,” but allows you to feel like a participant.

You can read my detailed reviews of the films at Suite101:

Orange Revolution - Documentary
The Orange Chronicles - 2007 Film

Both films can be purchased directly via the films’ official websites:

Orange Revolution
The Orange Chronicles

Photos are courtesy of Damian Kolody

Pripyat - "Life After People"

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I have not watched the entire show yet, but did see it through the segment covering Pripyat.  Before the Pripyat segment, they made it seem as if nature would completely take over a city after only five years, showing graphics of streets being totally covered by vegetation.  The Pripyat segment followed, as a case study of what can actually happen in 20 years.  Having been to Pripyat myself, I need to make some comments about the show's presentation.

First of all, after 20 years, the surface of Pripyat's streets are clearer than the show's computer graphic from the "after 5 years" segment.  Pripyat's roads are not completely covered by vegetation.  Sure, some of the pavement is covered by moss and there are definitely weeds growing out of the cracks, but as a whole, you see much less vegetation than cement.  When you travel through the city, many of its streets look like poorly maintained sidewalks, but that is due to the massive amounts of overhanging trees and bushes, not because of vegetation covering the pavement.  Pripyat is definitely being slowly overrun by vegetation, but the show used specific camera angles to make it look worse than it really is.

The show also seemed to treat Pripyat as if it has been completely devoid of humans for the last 20 years.  Yes, the city's population was evacuated the day after the accident, however Chernobyl plant workers as well as researchers still made use of some city facilities well into the 1990s.  For example, the city's indoor swimming pool "Azure" was used by plant workers and city services until it finally closed for good in 1998.

I also have an issue with one scene focusing on gas masks strewn across the floor of a Pripyat school.  While the show did not specifically mention the gas masks, it used the scene to evoke emotions and make an impression.  Most people seeing images of the gas masks believe they were used by children after the accident.  In fact, the masks were stored in school basements for use in case of a "Cold War" nuclear attack by the United States.  The masks were moved upstairs by looters who extracted the filters that were made from silver.  Gas masks in the schools had absolutely nothing to do with the Chernobyl Plant.  I think the scene was misused and deceptive - it had nothing to do with the show's topic.

Finally, I found part of the segment with Ron Chesser to also be misleading.  In one scene he made a comment that the radiation levels were basically normal, but that it was too late to repopulate the city.  There are definitely areas within the city where radiation levels are at or near normal background levels, however there are also sections that have much higher levels.  Normal urban background radiation levels are typically between 20-50 microroentgens per hour (µR/h).  During my visit to Pripyat, I found many places with radiation levels over 1,000 µR/h, and on the dock behind the Pripyat Cafe, the levels reached 3,400 µR/h.  These levels are way beyond the normal range and are not safe over extended periods of time.  I agree with Chesser that, regardless of radiation levels, conditions in the city prevent repopulation, but the show was wrong to insinuate that radiological conditions in the city are now safe enough for human habitation.

Don't get me wrong.  I think the show, from what I saw, was very interesting.  It really makes you stop and think about what will happen to our planet in the future.  I only wish they were more truthful with their presentation of Pripyat.  The Chernobyl disaster was a terrible tragedy and does not need embellishment and misinformation to get that point across.

History Channel - "Life After People"

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A colleague sent me a message today about a new two-hour special on the History Channel titled "Life After People."  The show takes a look at what would happen to Earth and the remnants of our society if the human race suddenly disappeared.  Part of the show will focus on Pripyat and Chernobyl since they are an existing case study on the topic.

The premier is tomorrow night, January 21, at 9:00 PM Eastern Time.  The History Channel website has a preview available online.

Pripyat - 1999 Documentary Film

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Pripyat Film

I finally wrote my review of the 1999 Nicklaus Geyrhalter documentary film Pripyat. I had forgotten that this movie is fairly depressing. Then again, is there anything about Chernobyl that is not at least a little depressing?

I think what struck me most about this film is all the silence in the background. There is no soundtrack - if people are not talking, there is only silence (except for several vehicles and occasional birds chirping). It reminded me very much of my own experiences in the Zone. I still vividly remember a year ago standing in Pripyat's main square in front of the Palace of Culture and hearing absolutely nothing. Think about that - I was standing in the middle of a city that used to be home to almost 50,000 people and heard absolutely nothing!

My only complaint about the film is that it was shot in black & white. The B & W treatment makes the area look like a wasteland. I understand that Geyrhalter did this for effect (and it definitely worked), but the area is not a wasteland. The Zone contains a lot of life, but plant and animal. The only reason the area could be considered a wasteland is because over 100,000 people used to live there, and now they can't.

This film is a must see. If it is not playing locally, I think you can buy it online. If not, you can purchase it directly from the film company (warning: it is only available in PAL format). Just send them an email and they will provide you with purchase information.

Radiophobia

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There seem to be a lot of people interested in viewing and possibly purchasing a copy of Julio Soto's award-winning 2005 documentary film about the Chernobyl accident. This is a very well-done film that includes some scenes with my friends who lived in Pripyat at the time of the accident, Lyubov Sirota and her son Sasha, who is currently the editor-in-chief of the public project Pripyat.com. I am usually left sad and speechless after viewing this film, partly due to the sad nature of the film, but also from seeing my friends returning to their former home.

If you are interested in more details about the film, see my summary and review of the Radiophobia documentary. That review is from a preview copy of the film I obtained directly from director and producer Julio Soto in 2005, before its release. This film is not available for free download on the internet (or should not be). If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this film, I suggest that you contact Luna Pictures directly.