Magazine article Screen International

Oles Sanin, the Guide

Magazine article Screen International

Oles Sanin, the Guide

Article excerpt

The Ukrainian director's epic has become a hit in its home country, selling more than 277,597 tickets in its first 25 days to overtake Fury at the box office.

Oles Sanin talks to Jeremy Kay about the Pronto Film story of an American boy who acts as a guide for a Kobzar -- a blind minstrel -- in Soviet Ukraine during the tumultuous and genocidal 1930s.

Tell us about the significance of the Kobzars in Ukrainian cultureThe Kobzars were the carriers of Ukrainian oral history, language, tradition and culture. They were traveling minstrels who sang about freedom and fighting for independence.Why did Stalin perceive them as a threat and how did he deal with them?Stalin first destroyed Ukrainian intellectuals, religion, middle class, finally the farmers in the Holodomor Genocide of 1932-33. Stalin then targeted the Kobzars as a last stronghold of Ukrainian culture and national identity. Stalin outlawed their traditional songs of freedom, their instruments, tried to make them paid performers of Soviet propaganda. When everything failed, he decided to simply kill them.How vibrant (and numerous) is the Kobzar community today?Some Kobzars escaped and kept the tradition alive. These survivors have nurtured a new generation of Kobzars who have been embraced by the Ukrainian public. During pre-production, I visited several schools for the blind. Almost all the blind Kobzars in the film are non-actors who learned how to sing and play traditional Kobzar music. Many have become Kobzars in real life and now continue the tradition.Have you received or do you expect to receive any grief from Russia over this film?The regime of Vladimir Putin won't like it and won't allow it to be shown. Inside Russia many people want to see it. It's important that viewers understand that the film is not anti-Russian; it's against the totalitarian regime that wanted to destroy the culture of the people. Russians want and need to see the film.Tell us the story of how you wanted to make this film. I understand you yourself were a guide for a minstrel.As a child I was interested in folk music. I collected songs. I met an old Kobzar and wanted to write his songs down. I was his guide for one week as he sang songs on the street, at the market, outside the church. It's a form of street music. I never thought to make a film about the murder of the Kobzars. In 2004 I met the actor Jack Palance and told him several stories I wanted to film. …

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