On May 17, Haytarma, a film directed by Akhtem Seytablayev, premiered with a scandal in Simferopol. Seytablayev was first to show the tragic mass deportation of Crimean Tatars under Stalin’s 1944 order on the big screen.
The film is based on a widely-known historical fact, officially confirmed and acknowledged. However, the Kremlin seems to deny it, interpreting it as the twisting of historical truth. Two hours before the premiere, the Russian Consul General in Crimea, Vladimir Andreyev recommended nine war veterans and colleagues of the main character, pilot Ametkhan Sultan, not to attend the premiere. The film “distorts the history of the Great Patriotic War,” he commented in a subsequent interview for the ATR channel, and suggested that Crimean Tatars should not conceal the theme of treason. “All I said is absolutely official,” Andreyev noted. “You can record it and play it to any Crimean Tatar. My word and the word of Russia should be said, should be known – including my interview – so that the truth is told about the Great Patriotic War… This is precisely the theme of treason.”
Haytarma stands out from the mostly mediocre films shot in Ukraine lately. The script is written by screenwriter Mykola Rybalka. The project had private investment in the amount of USD 1.5mn. The cast included some of the best-known actors in Ukraine, such as Oleksiy Horbunov, Andriy Saminin, Yuriy Tsurilo and Dmytro Surzhykov. Akhtem Seytablayev, who is a Crimean Tatar himself, directed the film. For him, this project was as significant as Schilndler’s List was to Steven Spielberg or Katyń to Andrzej Wajda. Akhtem succeeded in bringing his large-scale idea to life: In the film, featuring a few days in the life of the brilliant pilot, Ametkhan Sultan, everything is in its right place; the war history is clear and well-thought-out; the dramatic moments of the hero’s time with his friends, family and the woman he loves are emotional; and all this comes to a powerful visual culmination. This is Akhtem’s undeniable victory as a director, especially after Backstreet Champions, the weak film he directed previously.
Haytarma, the Crimean Tatar word for a folk dance symbolizing return, is based on actual facts: On May 18-20, 1944, all Crimean Tatars, classified as traitors and adherents of fascists by the Soviet authorities, were kicked out of their homes, put on trains and taken to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Ural. Almost 250,000 people were deported. 46% of them died of starvation and disease. This is four times more than the number of Crimean Tatars killed in WWII. 30,000 of the Crimean Tatars that returned home after fighting in the Red Army were also deported after the war ended. This is all official data recognized by the Soviet Union’s parliament back in 1989.
Currently, Haytarma* is only playing in one movie theatre in the country, the one in Simferopol. Large distributors in Kyiv have refused to play it because of the low box-office receipts generated by such films. Even the movie theatre in Simferopol where the premiere was scheduled, tried to cancel in the last minute. And while the film is expecting its debut on nation-wide big screens, pro-government politicians are asking the State Film Agency, which certified Haytarma for distribution, whether it could fuel ethnic animosity.