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Stronger Than Arms, a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Ukraine’s revolution and civil war, opens Thursday in Kiev and at cinemas across the country, including two close to frontlines in the rebel-held East of he country.
But many cinemas close to the conflict region, where nearly 1,000 people have died since a shaky ceasefire was announced Sept. 5, have refused to show the film, fearing violent retribution.
The 78-minute film is based on the Babylon 13 “Cinema of a civil protest” project that chronicled the winter revolt that toppled president Viktor Yanukovych and sparked a civil war between Russian-backed separatist forces and those loyal to the government in Kiev.
Igor Savychenko, one of the film’s producers, told The Hollywood Reporter that the film, which opens in a sold-out screening in the Ukrainian capital’s 1,200-seat Kyivska Rus cinema, falls into two broad segments.
“It is a story of war and revolution. The first part of the story covers events on Kiev’s Maidan Square until Yanukovych fled,” he said. “The second part relates the story of fighting around Donetsk airport.”
The film, showing with English subtitles, is being released at 23 cinemas, including two in Mariupol and Severodonetsk, towns that are close to the rebel-controlled territory. Many cinemas in the conflict region, however, simply refused to show the film.
Ukraine has around 330 cinemas, although the latest available figures predate the revolution and civil war. Savychenko said that 23 screens for a documentary film was a decent figure in a territory where a Hollywood blockbuster might play on 150 screens.
“The film is being released without a distributor, everything is being done by volunteers,” he added.
In a further sign of current tensions in the country, the film’s credits list only Babylon 13, although the documentary is the work of an ensemble of feature and documentary directors, and film school students.
A YouTube trailer for the film demonstrates that it squarely takes the side of the revolution, with stirring music, an emotional voiceover and English subtitles.
Publicity in Russian released for the film says it “will inflame your heart … giving the viewer the opportunity to reexperience the rise and despair of Maidan, and the war in the east of Ukraine.”
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