The documentary Pit No. 8 by Estonian director Marianna Kaat has been a success at international film festivals for over a year. On 26 March 2012, it was scheduled for screening at the Docudays UA festival in Kyiv. But one hour before screening, the film was removed from the programme at the request of its Ukrainian co-producers, Olena Fetisova and the Interfilm film studio. It was later established that the official reason was that the film was allegedly “fictional”. Fetisova is currently not available for comment and has not replied to an official letter from the organising committee of Docudays UA which asked her to prove her exclusive rights to Pit No. 8. If Interfilm fails to furnish the necessary documentary evidence, the film will be restored to the programme of the festival which will travel through 123 cities in Ukraine. Kaat shared her view of the situation in an exclusive interview with The Ukrainian Week.
U.W.: Do you suppose that the ban of your film could be politically motivated?
I don't know why it happened; I can only guess. I simply had no time before Docudays UA to read the agreement I signed with Fetisova. My new film is in the final stage of production now, so somehow it did not even cross my mind that a situation like this could arise. And now when I was on the plane, I had about an hour to sort things out. Importantly, Fetisova has always insisted that she has sovereign rights to the film. However, according to our agreement, which I finally had time to study in detail, she has an exclusive right to the film's commercial use in Ukraine but not to festival screenings — that belongs to me. Several hours before its scheduled screening, I tried to persuade her that she did not have the exclusive rights to Pit No. 8 and urged her to allow the film to be shown. Since the conflict erupted, I warned her that it was going to be a big scandal which would not be in her interest.
As a result, the Docudays UA organising committee, not I, received a letter signed by her husband (Interfilm executive producer Volodymyr Kozyr. – Ed.) which contained all this nonsense about the film being “fictional”. They succeeded in scaring the organising committee. I was deeply offended by this action by Interfilm. It also put the children featured in the film in an absolutely horrible situation. The accusation that the film is “fictional” concerns them, because if it were true, it would mean that they acted out the things shown in the film. Following Fetisova’s reasoning, they must have dug the pits themselves and pretended to be working in them. To me, this letter carries the aura of the 1930s. I think this style would have been better appreciated back then. And the children from Snizhne and myself would have been put against the wall and shot. This letter crosses all admissible lines.
U.W.: What criteria did Interfilm use to justify its accusations?
Let me say again that this is a bunch of nonsense. You know, the guests of Docudays UA were shocked to learn about Fetisova’s demarche based on this kind of reasoning. The film has been shown at many international documentary film festivals for over a year now. And now it is given such a description which comes from a co-producer at that – a person who put her signature under every frame in this film. Her name and her company’s logo are in the titles. If she had any problems with the film, she had plenty of time to speak her mind before the film was released or terminate the agreement, which it turns out allowed for this procedure. But she hasn’t done anything of the kind. Why? To keep the film away from its audience in Ukraine?
U.W.: Are you going to sue Fetisova over her actions?
Not at all. You know, every cloud has a silver lining. After all, Interfilm’s letter drew the attention of all of Ukraine to my film and the problems raised in it. It is not a given that people would have learned about it without this scandal. But the film’s biggest goal was to protect the children who became its protagonists. By the way, they came to Kyiv, and we all thought we would watch the film together. Considering that this is a human rights festival, I intended to bring these children in contact with all the relevant organisations who always have their representatives there. The reason is that these children faced countless problems because of the film, and apart from me – and I live in another country – no-one was going to take care of them. Fortunately, my plan succeeded, while the letter drew the attention of the people who normally take no interest in this. So it even played into our hands – now we have journalists and public opinion on our side.
The main thing is that the children saw Kyiv and realised that life can be different than what it is in Snizhne. You know, we were on a TV programme, and the host asked Yura (the protagonist in the film. – Ed.) what he liked the most in the capital. People, he said, because when they were eating in a canteen and someone did not have a fork, another person got up and fetched one. Yura added: “I used to live like I was on the Titanic where no-one took care of each other.” I simply cried today when I received two text messages from him. Let me quote one of them: “We are in Snizhne. I’m back home and at a loss for words to describe it! I decided to rent a flat. I only need to get the money. Yeah, the trip to Kyiv changed my thinking.” The main thing is that thanks to my film and the scandal around it, he essentially re-evaluated his entire life. I believe that this is the most important thing, and no one can take that away from him.