In ’20 Days in Mariupol’ doc, the horrors of war illuminated

Jan 22, 2023, 8:09 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 10:20 am
Director Mstyslav Chernov poses for a portrait to promote the film "20 Days in Mariupol" at the Lat...

Director Mstyslav Chernov poses for a portrait to promote the film "20 Days in Mariupol" at the Latinx House during the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

(Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

              Parents mourn at the a coffin of Oleksandr Grianyk of Azov regiment, who was killed on May 8 defending Mariupol from the Russian invaders, during the funeral ceremony in St. Michael Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Grianyk's remains were identified recently. Azov emblem is on the coffin lid. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
            
              A view of an apartment building, damaged during a heavy fighting, in Mariupol, in Russian-controlled Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)
            
              "Frontline" producer/editor Michelle Mizner poses for a portrait to promote the film "20 Days in Mariupol" at the Latinx House during the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)
            
              Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, the director, producer and cinematographer of the documentary film "20 Days in Mariupol," walks after introducing the film at its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
            
              Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, right, the director/producer/cinematographer of the documentary film "20 Days in Mariupol," poses with, from left, AP photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, AP field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko and "Frontline" producer/editor Michelle Mizner at the world premiere of the film at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
            
              Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, the director/producer/cinematographer of the documentary film "20 Days in Mariupol," poses at the premiere of the film at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
            
              Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, the director/producer/cinematographer of "20 Days in Mariupol," introduces the film at its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
            
              Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, third from right, the director/producer/cinematographer of the documentary film "20 Days in Mariupol," poses with, from left, AP vice president of news and head of global production Derl McCrudden, AP field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko, AP photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, "Frontline" producer/editor Michelle Mizner and "Frontline" editor-in-chief and executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath at the world premiere of the film at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
            
              Photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, from left, "Frontline" producer/editor Michelle Mizner, director Mstyslav Chernov, and field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko pose for a portrait to promote the film "20 Days in Mariupol" at the Latinx House during the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)
            
              Director Mstyslav Chernov poses for a portrait to promote the film "20 Days in Mariupol" at the Latinx House during the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov had just broken out of Mariupol after covering the first 20 days of the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian city and was feeling guilty about leaving. He and his colleagues, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko, had been the last journalists there, sending crucial dispatches from a city under a full-scale assault.

The day after, a theater with hundreds of people sheltering inside was bombed and he knew no one was there to document it. That’s when Chernov decided he wanted to do something bigger. He’d filmed some 30 hours of footage over his days in Mariupol. But poor and sometimes no internet connections made it extremely difficult to export anything. All told, he estimates only about 40 minutes of that successfully made it out to the world.

“Those shots which went out were very important. They went on the AP and then to thousands of news outlets,” Chernov said. “However, I had much more. … I thought I should do something more. I should do something more with that 30 hours of footage to tell a bigger story and more context to show the audience of the scale.”

Chernov decided then that he wanted to make a documentary. That film, “20 Days in Mariupol,” a joint project between The Associated Press and PBS “Frontline,” premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where it is playing in competition.

There were, he knew, many ways to tell this story. But he decided early on to keep it contained to those harrowing first 20 days that he and his colleagues were on the ground, to evoke the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped. He also chose to narrate it himself and tell the story as a journalist would.

“It’s just a lens through which we see the stories of Mariupol’s residents, the death, their suffering the destruction of their homes,” he said. “At the same time, I felt that I can do it. I’m allowed to do it because I’m part of the community. I was born in eastern Ukraine and (a) photographer who worked with me was born in the city which is right next to Maruipol, which got occupied. So this is our story too.”

As an AP employee, Chernov was extremely aware of maintaining neutrality and being unbiased.

“It’s OK to tell the audiences about your emotions,” he said. “It’s just important to not let those emotions dictate what you show and don’t show …. While narrated by me, I still tried to keep it fair.”

He encounters quite a few different reactions to him and his colleagues being on the ground. Some thanked them for doing their jobs. Some called them prostitutes. Some doctors urged them to film graphic scenes of injured and dead children to show the world what had been done.

After Chernov left Mariupol and was finally able to catch up with the news reports around the world, he was stunned by the effect their footage seemed to have had. They followed up with people they’d met during their time there, some of whom got out, some who didn’t, and asked whether or not they’d affected their lives.

Some said relatives had found them because of the footage, or that they’d been able to get help. Doctors and officials said it made it easier to negotiate the green corridor to safety.

“I don’t know how much of that is our footage, how much of that is just what happens,” Chernov said. “But I really would like to believe that we did make a difference, because I guess that’s what journalism is about, to inform people so they make certain decisions.”

Another mission for him was to provide historical evidence for potential war crimes. Chernov is keenly aware that the war is not even history yet. It is a painful reality that is ongoing.

At Sundance he’s been able to watch the film, edited by “Frontline’s” Michelle Mizner, with an audience two times. The film got a standing ovation at the premiere. And a subsequent screening he met several audience members who said they were from Mariupol and that their relatives were escaping the sieged city at the same time he was. The theaters, had counselors on standby in case anyone needed support.

“I hoped they will have emotional responses and they did. But at the same time to watch people crying, it’s hard,” he said. “When you place an audience for 90 minutes into this chaos and this mess and this violence, there is a risk of people getting too overwhelmed or even pushed back by the amount of this violence.

“You just really want to show how it really was,” he added. “That was the main challenge of making choices while assembling the film. How do you show the gravity but at the same time not push the audience away? … We had already two screenings and audience responses are very strong. People are crying, people are depressed and they express a wide range of feelings, from anger, to sadness, to grief. That is what I as a filmmaker intended to do. But at the same time, I realize that probably that’s not easy for everyone”

Now Chernov just wants to get back to work.

“I just want to go back,” he said. “After Sundance we will go back and go to the front line.”

___

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.

___

For a longer interview with Chernov about the film, watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kf0EnlPlv8

___

For more coverage of the Sundance Film Festival, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/sundance-film-festival.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The logo for OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, appears on a mobile phone, in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 31...
Associated Press

Cheaters beware: ChatGPT maker releases AI detection tool

ChatGPT is trying to curb its reputation as a freewheeling cheating machine with a new tool that can help detect if artificial intelligence wrote it
22 hours ago
This undated photo provided by the Grants Pass Police Department shows Benjamin Obadiah Foster. Fos...
Rio Yamat and Andrew Selsky, Associated Press

Oregon kidnap suspect previously released the day he arrived at prison

A man at the center of an intense police search in Oregon after a violent kidnapping last week was released from custody in October 2021 by Nevada prison officials on the same day he was transferred to the state's custody to serve a kidnapping sentence, authorities said Monday.
22 hours ago
FILE - This image provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Texas death row inmate...
Associated Press

Man who fatally shot Dallas officer in 2007 faces execution

HOUSTON (AP) — A man convicted of fatally shooting a Dallas police officer nearly 16 years ago faces execution on Wednesday. Wesley Ruiz, 43, is set to receive a lethal injection for the March 2007 killing of Dallas Police Senior Corporal Mark Nix. Ruiz had led officers on a high-speed chase after being spotted driving […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Actor Alec Baldwin attends a news conference at United Nations headquarters, on Sept. 21, 20...
Associated Press

Baldwin faces involuntary manslaughter charge in set death

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Prosecutors linked Alec Baldwin to an expansive list of alleged failures in firearms safety as they filed a felony involuntary manslaughter charge Tuesday against the actor in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on a New Mexico movie set. Halyna Hutchins died shortly after being wounded during rehearsals at a […]
22 hours ago
A portrait of Tyre Nichols is displayed at a memorial service for him on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 in ...
Associated Press

Family of Tyre Nichols prepares to lay him to rest

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The family of Tyre Nichols planned to lay him to rest on Wednesday, three weeks after he was beaten to death by Memphis police after a traffic stop. In those three weeks, five police officers have been fired and charged with murder, and their specialized unit was disbanded. Two more officers […]
22 hours ago
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg answers a question from students at Keio University in Toky...
Associated Press

NATO chief wants more ‘friends’ as Russia, China move closer

TOKYO (AP) — China’s growing assertiveness and collaboration with Russia poses a threat not only to Asia but also to Europe, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday as he sought stronger cooperation and more “friends” for NATO in the Indo-Pacific region. Stoltenberg said China is increasingly investing in nuclear weapons and long-range missiles without providing […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
In ’20 Days in Mariupol’ doc, the horrors of war illuminated