“Chernobyl transported us from one era to another. We face a new reality.” – Svetlana Alexievich
In 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, Soviet Union, exploded, catalyzing the world’s worst nuclear accident. In 1997, Belarusian writer and historian Svetlana Alexievich published Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, based on her interviews with survivors of the nuclear meltdown. The book won the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award.
In 2014, the disaster and book were revisited by Luxembourg director Pol Crutchen and his crew, who using unconventional, experimental cinematic techniques, sought to bring to life the voices of those who remain – in a country that was still in turmoil. The 2016 documentary filmVoices from Chernobyl is the result.
“This film is not talking about Chernobyl but of a world which we know almost nothing,” said the Luxembourg committee that selected Voices to represent the country’s films at the Oscars.“Some people from everyday life are raising their voices to testify. Through their supplication, the film takes us on a journey into the human soul.”
On Monday, April 9 at 7 p.m. in East Tennessee State University’s Ball Hall Auditorium, ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts will present a screening of the award-winning documentary Voices from Chernobyl, based on Alexievich’s book.
In this unique piece of cinema, the filmmaker “takes the audience on a spiritual and poetic journey through this horror, juxtaposing their softly spoken, anger-less words,” says australianfilms.com, “which reflect on the atrocities suffered by the victims of this accident –with images of mesmerizing aestheticism.”
The film, like the book, is a collection of eyewitness accounts. Scientists, teachers, journalists,couples and children speak of their daily lives, of the catastrophe, their losses and how they have survived. They express the suffering of men, women and children exposed to lethal levels of radiation and misinformed by Soviet authorities as to the true danger of their surroundings.
Rather than filming the actual eyewitnesses from the book, Crutchen cast actors to read the accounts, creating what he calls “a cinematographic essay.” The actors recount the stories in French, with English subtitles. “I could not contemplate filming the real witnesses …” Crutchen says. “[But] I needed men and women. That human fabric is crucial to the film. In her book, Svetlana speaks more about humanity than about the catastrophe itself.”
Crutchen calls the interplay of voices a “polyphony” of “very private experiences.”
“Voices” was entirely shot in Pripyat. “We had a moral obligation to shoot on the premises,” he says.
Cruchten found Alexievich’s work an inexhaustible source of inspiration. “The voices which combine to form Voices from Chernobyl are multitudinous …” says Crutchen, who graduated from Paris’ École Supérieure d’Études Cinématographiques. “Voices that bear witness of a catastrophe of global proportions speaking directly to us. They touch us with their veracity, their intelligence, their courage and their humanity. And they also touch us because they are of such relevance now.”
“Voices from Chernobyl” was selected for the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts season for a number of reasons, said Anita DeAngelis, Director of Sponsor Mary B. Martin School of the Arts. “We wanted to bring an event as part of Earth Month on campus,” DeAngelis says, “but the documentary also has been screening in venues like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and dovetails with literature classes at ETSU that are studying Alexievich’s writing. Plus Voices is truly an eerily beautiful film that we all can learn from.”
In today’s Russia, Alexievich “is frequently seen as the conscience of the nation, a uniquely incisive commentator on the disappointments and complexities of the post-Soviet condition…” says The Guardian. “Taken together, Alexievich’s books remain perhaps the single most impressive document of the late Soviet Union and its aftermath.”
A harsh critic of Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko, but Alexievich left her country in protest for more than a decade. Now the writer is back, yet she is banned from making public appearances and her books have not been published in Belarus, despite the fact that she won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature.
The film “Voices” won Best Documentary honors at the Minneapolis St. Paul International FilmFestival and the Grand Prix award at the Festival International du Film d’Environment in 2016.
“We have a tendency to banish Chernobyl to the past and to a remote corner of Ukraine, as if it were part of history,” says Crutchen. “But Chernobyl is undeniably our present. A present which bears the stigmata of the past and also fears for the future.
“Like every director, I like to think that cinema can change our perception of the world. I hope now, more than ever, that Voices from Chernobyl will make for change.”
For more information on Voices from Chernobyl, visit http://www.lasupplication-lefilm.com.