Letters from Ukraine: 25/03/22 – Our Stand

The next in George Gittoes's series of dispatches from Ukraine, this letter describes the project that the artist is undertaking with Hellen Rose, and the help of a new collaborator: to document stories of love in a time of conflict.

Two divas: Hellen Rose and Diva Butterfly in Kyiv, photographed by George Gittoes

With the sound of bombs and missiles in the distance, we just did an interview with ABC Illawarra.

We could hear in the voice of Melinda, the journalist, that she was clearly moved. I told the story of “The Kiss.” People are writing back saying “The Kiss” turns our stand into a romance – a love story. When I came to Baghdad, I did not know I would make a film about music, Soundtrack to War. I am now thinking we should title our Ukraine film Love in War and make it about Ukraine and how couples and families have been broken up. I would like to ask soldiers to tell their personal love stories, like when I asked soldiers and people in Iraq to talk about the music they listened to, to see them through the terrible days of the war. John and Yoko made their stand against the Vietnam War in a hotel bed in Amsterdam – our stand will be to record the voice of lovers separated by the insanity of this war.

If we were working for a TV network with editorial demands, or were soldiers in an army with orders to follow, we would have the luxury of being “sent” – our travel arranged, accommodation fixed, food supplied, medical support, and pay, but we would not have the freedom to devise our own stories and strategies. From now until it ends, we have to manage everything about our survival in Kyiv. But the hardest thing has been resisting our inner urge for self-preservation. We need very thick socks to prevent “cold feet.”

The decision to film Love in War has removed a huge burden – we now have a clear objective: every day we will go out and collect love stories.

We have befriended a beautiful trans ballet dancer and painter/ceramicist, Diva Butterfly. I am hoping Diva will act as our translator when interviewing for the love stories. Diva is keen to be part of the film, and in it.

My way of working is so unconventional that I cannot work with normal, straight doc-making crew. Their expectations are always too ridgid. I use the Picasso principle of “I do not seek, I find,” and need the flexibility of an improvisational jazz musician. Approaching people with tripods, boom mics on a pole, and a professional-looking crew is daunting for the people we want to talk to and befriend – the small camera and bohemian look we present, as artists, is the way I get the intimate level of trust that is typical of interactions in my films.

Once we have found our set of characters, of lonely lovers, we will keep coming back to them to see how they are going. My huge, optimistic hope is to be able to celebrate with them when Ukraine has victory over Russia. Our apartment is next to Maidan Square, and I can imagine a V Day event with people dancing in the streets. If the Russians win and crush these brave people that will be a different kind of story, but I will see what reunions can happen under difficult circumstances, and hope there are not too many sad stories with our people killed. But I am optimistic – the spirit every time we go outside and interact is amazingly brave and positive.

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related