Why We’re Still Holding a Film Festival in Ukraine, by the he Kyiv International Short Film Festival

Alika Kharchenko is the communication manager for the Kyiv International Short Film Festival, as well as the manager of the KyivMusicFilm distribution company and the newly created online cinema TYTR. In the piece below, she talks about KISFF’s perseverance through Russia’s invasion.

The Kyiv International Short Film Festival is the largest short film festival in Ukraine. It has operated since 2011 and screens over 250 films from all over the world, every year. Nothing has stopped KISFF from the beginning: not the revolution in Ukraine in 2014, not the economic crisis, not the worldwide lockdowns. The festival team has always believed that whatever happens, we need to stay strong and bring people together around culture.

For our next edition, in 2022, KISFF planned some major updates to the program and organization. But on February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale war in Ukraine.

Despite some warnings, we couldn’t believe that we would ever wake up to the war. We had heard that Russia “has their plans” for Ukraine, but we thought we’d have time to move somewhere to the West before anything serious happened. But on that day, we woke up to explosions, right in Kyiv.

For a couple of weeks, we were numb. Everything has shut down — theaters, cafes — and even in the Western part of the country, none of our cultural life has remained. We couldn’t work, because film screenings couldn’t happen. We were in deep shock, trying to process everything.

However, life in many Ukrainian cities is returning to normal — or it’s better to say, to the new normal. In the regions that are not under occupation, cafes, restaurants, gyms, theaters and cinemas are beginning to open again. Of course, nothing is the same as it was. Sometimes a screening must stop because of an air raid siren, so people can hide in bomb shelters.

But Ukrainians are doing everything to make the economy of the country run, and to support each other — and keeping everything functional that we possibly can.

This is the background as we question whether to hold the next edition of KISFF.

As all of us have moved to different places, we have held many discussions over Zoom — and have decided that one of the ways to help the country is to do what we can do best: run our film festival.

The event will provide some financial support for the country and our colleagues, and also contribute to the cultural life of people.

Culture is one of the essential aspects of being, even during the war. At least as long as it is possible to celebrate it. The festival will carry on our cultural diplomacy, connecting people from around the world through cinema, and promoting Ukrainian culture worldwide. The festival will also support Ukrainian filmmakers affected by war.

Of course we must face crucial questions, both practical and theoretical. Our greatest barrier is the unknown. The next edition had been planned for September, but would the festival make sense by then? The situation in Ukraine has changed drastically in the last two months, so we can only imagine what will be here by September. In north and east Ukraine, some cinemas have already been destroyed by the missiles. Will the ones in Kyiv remain? If they do, will people willingly attend film screenings? Will they be safe enough? Will people spend their money on leisure?

These are only a few of the questions to which we cannot find the answers.

Still, we are committed to organizing the festival — or at the very least to hold it online. Then the question of programming arises.

We have to be extra careful while curating the program this year, because people have become very sensitive to many topics. We want to keep the balance between reflecting on the current situation in society, and its pressure points, while also giving people space to take a break from the horrible things they are facing every day.

“How can we make films after everything we’ve seen in Bucha?” is quite a common thought among Ukrainian filmmakers nowadays. It recalls Theodor Adorno’s quote, “”To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” What will make sense for Ukrainians now?

Another issue for the festival this year is fundraising. We used to raise money from ticket sales, support from the international cultural institutions, the government, and commercial sponsors. We can hardly count on these sources this year, though some international emergency funds are offering their help now. We will heavily rely on them for this year’s edition.

Of course there are many more concerns, many of them around safety. If the war continues, the men on our team might have to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Also, our whole team remains in Ukraine. We hear air raids every day in every city, and Russian missile attacks strike all over the country. We can never feel completely safe.

If you’d like to support Ukraine, you can make a donation here. Supporting armed forces is the most important task for Ukraine because the better we defend now, the fewer people would need humanitarian help later.

Glory to Ukraine!