DOCU/SYNTHESIS at Docudays: preserving memory in the face of genocidal war

29 may, 2024

The 21 International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival Docudays UA will take place from May 31 to June 6, 2024 (plus viewer days on June 7–9). The screens of Kyiv's Zhovten cinema, KINO42, and the House of Cinema will feature 62 films from 34 countries — from Chile to Taiwan. Among them will be 19 premieres of Ukrainian films — 10 national and nine world premieres.

This is a partner material of ArtsLooker, created in collaboration with DOCU/SYNTHESIS, an interdisciplinary arts program of the Docudays UA Festival that explores the medium of film at the intersection of various disciplines, creating a space for critical reflection and interaction between documentary film, contemporary art, science and technology with a special focus on the local context. A full description of this year's program can be found here.

What to expect in the DOCU/SYNTHESIS program

Alongside its diverse film lineup, Docudays 2024 will introduce DOCU/SYNTHESIS curated by Oleksandra Nabieva, an interdisciplinary art program dedicated to exploring archival work — encompassing documentary, personal, and commemorative archives.

The documentary method is represented by Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s Anthology of Ukrainian Cuisine 2022–2024. The artist has been working with the theme of volunteering for two years, focusing specifically on providing food for the Ukrainian army. The previous version of this work shown at the Kyiv Biennial in 2023 focused on the volunteer organization Borscht for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which produces soup mixes for the front.

Kuznetsov’s work for Docudays consists of the artist's audio and video recordings and vertical videos, usually posted on social media. These are an important tool for transmitting testimonies of Russia's full-scale invasion. By focusing on grassroots volunteering, the project emphasizes its invaluable importance in the fight against modern Russian fascists. Anthology, which can be viewed for free at the Zhovten cinema, was created in collaboration with musician Maryana Klochko.

At the heart of the installation is the Ukraine War Archive — a project by the Docudays NGO and the British non-profit organization Infoscope, which professionally catalogs all forms of digital materials from our war, "the most documented act of armed aggression in history." Founded in March 2022, the archive aims to preserve records of civilian resistance to the Russian army and its war crimes so that these materials can be used in courts, journalistic investigations, artistic works, and more.

Illustration for Volodymyr Kuznetsov's project "Anthology of Ukrainian Cuisine." Source: docudays.ua
Another project from the DOCU/SYNTHESIS, Listening to absence: Sound archives of (non-) empty rooms, continues the theme of personal archives. Organized by the music agency "Ukho" (curated by Sasha Andrusyk), the series of audio installations consists of three parts and is based on documentary recordings from Kyiv from 2011 to 2024. Each part differs in method and timeline: Kyiv before the full-scale invasion, during the transition, and after.

The peaceful Kyiv before 2022 is represented by the work Kyiv Eternal by Oleh Shpudeyko. Almost all tracks from the musician's eponymous album, released under the pseudonym Heinali, refer to various locations in the capital — "Stantsiia Maidan Nezalezhnosti," "Botanichnyi sad," "Peizazhna aleia," "Borshchahivka at Night," "Shuliavka in Winter," etc. In the installation for Docudays, these field recordings are transformed into ambient music and are called "memory cycles."

Kyiv after the invasion is conveyed by the documentary audio play Death in June by Ian Spektor. Spektor, known as a businessman and founder of the Plivka and 2c1b community, explores the city through field recordings and "musique concrète." He is interested in "the functioning of music in its incidental, amateur, liminal, ritual, daily manifestations" and calls his practice "soundscaping memory." His work for Docudays is based on recordings from Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Volodarka, created in 2022–2023.

​A small archive of home music recorded by Kyiv residents in the spring of 2022 captures the transitional stage of Kyiv's life. The installation is open to visitors at the House of Cinema until June 2 (an artist talk will take place on June 4).
Banner of the "Listening to absence: Sound archives of (non-) empty rooms" project by the Uho agency. Source: docudays.ua
The final component of the DOCU/SYNTHESIS program is a collaboration with the Berlin cinema SİNEMA TRANSTOPIA, which works with cinema as cultural memory, focusing on the diversity of film culture and art. “Transtopia“ in the project’s name refers to a term by migration researcher Erol Yıldız, which denotes spaces where "transnational ties and connections converge, are reinterpreted, and condense into everyday contexts."

At the initiative of SİNEMA TRANSTOPIA, Docudays will show two archival films. Guestworker’s Road by Tuncel Kurtiz (Sweden/Turkey, 1978) tells the stories of migrants who traveled to Western Europe along the E5 route, also known as Europastraße, the "road of death" or "road home" (sıla yolu). This route, connecting Turkey with Germany, is the main path for Turkish guest workers. The second film, One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train by Ignacio Agüero (Chile, 1988), celebrates the power of cinema as a source of joy and solidarity. The plot revolves around Alicia Vega, a teacher in a village near Chile, who introduces children to the art of cinema during the country's military dictatorship. The film program is curated by Galo E. Rivera and Bethan Hughes.
Banner for the SİNEMA TRANSTOPIA film program project for the DOCU/SYNTHESIS of Docudays. Source: docudays.ua

What to expect from Docudays 2024

In 2024, the film festival will focus on understanding historical memory. In times of genocidal war, memory is an intangible yet fundamental thing. In fact, at other times, too. Russia has been eradicating Ukrainian identity not for two, not ten, not even a hundred years. "10 years of a three-day war that has lasted three centuries" — this year's Docudays theme sounds incredibly apt. Our collective memories are fragile and need support because the Russians constantly try to rewrite or erase them. Responsibility for this, and literally — for Russia's war crimes — is another topic for discussion at the festival. Because without responsibility, there is no justice, and without justice, there is no true peace.

The main program of Docudays 2024 features six directorial works, each of which "considers the culture of memory in the face of war and the global fragility of the world." These are: Intercepted by Oksana Karpovych, documenting the moral decay of Russian society; The Kyiv Files by Walter Stokman, telling about social paranoia due to the constant surveillance of the KGB during the totalitarianism of the USSR; Invisible Nation by Vanessa Hope, outlining the ideological-political landscape of Taiwan with the threat of an attack from China; Henry Fonda for President by Alexander Horwath, showcasing polar views on the history and role of the USA in the world during Ronald Reagan's presidency; The DNA of Dignity by Jan Baumgartner, questioning the preservation of memory as the preservation of life, honoring those killed during the Balkan wars; Mission 200 by Volodymyr Sydko, showing an example of personal care for the deceased and rescuing them from oblivion.

Banner of the DOCU/SYNTHESIS Interdisciplinary Art Program. Source: docudays.ua
Events from the DOCU/SYNTHESIS program will take place at the Zhovten cinema and the House of Cinema from May 31 to June 6. Film screenings within the festival will be held at the Zhovten cinema, the House of Cinema, the KINO42 cinema, and on the DOCUSPACE online platform.

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