Taras Tomenko • Director of Boney Piles

“Each of these children had a dramatic story, but what I saw in Nastya really touched me”

– The Ukrainian director talks about his latest documentary dedicated to a whole generation of children living in times of war

After premiering at this year’s Berlinale, Bone piles [+see also:
film review
interview: Taras Tomenko
film profile
]
was recently screened at the goEast Film Festival in Wiesbaden, where it won Best Documentary (read the news). We met the Ukrainian director Taras Tomenkowho shared some of his thoughts on his film and news.

Cineeuropa: Have been you familiar with the area before starting manufacturing the film?
Taras Tomenko: Yes, I know the Donetsk and Luhansk regions well, because in 2014 I had the opportunity to shoot a military film, and we paid a lot of attention to the theme of children. I know the specificities of this region because it is a mining area. It’s a depressed place because some call it a “grey area”, which is constantly under fire. I was interested in how people can survive in these circumstances. But the paradox is that since February 24 of this year, the whole of Ukraine has become a kind of “grey zone”, a hot spot on the planet. The paradox is that we are all now in Ukraine. Nastya lost his home and lost his family – now almost every family has suffered such heavy losses, and therefore this film was a prediction of current events.

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What were the most important aspects you wanted to talk about?
Our film explores the lives of children during the war. An adult can give advice, but it is very difficult, and a child is absolutely incapable of reacting to hostilities or bombardments. Nastya’s tragedy, the death of her father, occurred in 2015. During filming, she got used to living with her family in Donetsk and Lugansk, Donbass. They completely stopped paying attention to the war. It has become commonplace; it has become like a landscape outside the window. People stopped feeling the danger and before the second phase of the war, which took place on February 24 this year, this subject had been forgotten. He had left the media and the front pages of newspapers, and disappeared into oblivion. In fact, we wanted to remind with this film that 40,000 children were in the “grey zone” at that time.

How did you develop the concept of the film?
We observed the lives of five or six children and their families. We shot a lot of material, and before meeting Nastya, the concept was still wide open. Each of these children had a dramatic story, but what I saw at Nastya really touched me. His drama felt to me to be all-encompassing; it seemed like it could be a projection of the situation of many children in Ukraine. So we made Nastya the main character.

How are you initially get to know these children?
We met Nastya by accident. Our car broke down, and suddenly she appeared, looked at us and said, “If you want, I can show you my house. The cameraman’s camera was on and we filmed this episode in which she showed us around her ruined house and showed us what had happened in 2015. And when we got there and started going through the material, we we decided unanimously that she would be the heroine of our film.

Music and lyrics are very important in the universe of your protagonists. What role do you think all of this plays in their growth and development?
It should be noted that Nastya suffers from psychological trauma. She tries to avoid communicating with this world and instead flees into the world of the Internet. She lives there, and TikTok is her only joy: she downloads songs from the Internet and sings them, because it’s the only thing she has in life.

How long have you spent in the region?
In 2014, my team and I started filming developments in the Donbass war zone. We traveled a lot along the front line, with a demining mission. We visited schools, kindergartens and foster homes, where we staged theater performances for children to teach them to stay away from ammunition.

What is the message you want to send with the film?
The war has been going on for more than eight years, putting people in constant and deadly danger. Children are particularly at risk. There is an episode in our film showing the first day of the school year, September 1st. These children going to school for the first time were born in times of war and have not known a single day of peace. We have a whole generation born in times of war. In addition to the horrors of war, we were deeply touched by their defenseless state. I saw many children whose limbs had been ripped off, whose parents had been killed in this war, or whose homes had been destroyed. This is what Putin’s Hybrid War policy has brought to our country. And with this film, we want to shout loud and clear to the world for Putin to stop the war he started against Ukraine.

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