Discover Ukraine Through Film – Golden Dzygas 2020
3 May, 2020
"Discover Ukraine Through Film" is a project by journalist Lee Reaney teaching Ukrainian history through cinematography.

Stuck at home and looking for something to watch? Why not use the time to brush up on your Ukrainian history? We’ve compiled the definitive list of 50 films to guide you through 1,000 years of Ukrainian history.

There are few industries better set to adapt to the new world of social distancing than that of film – and Ukrainian cinema is greeting this new world with open arms. The Golden Dzyga Awards – aka “the Ukrainian Oscars” – have moved the red carpet from the city streets to your living room suite as the posh awards show moves online. Representing the ongoing "Golden Age" of Ukrainian cinema are five wildly distinctive gems.

Learn about some of the key issues facing Ukrainians today – like the annexation of Crimea ("Homeward") or how to deal with a parent that doesn’t want you to move abroad ("My Thoughts Are Quiet"). Discover how Ukraine’s heat industry workers keep their spirits up while receiving complaint after complaint ("Heat Singers"). Or go for something a little wilder, like the quirky escapism of the Dakh Daughter’s-led "Hutsulka Kseniya" or the absurd surrealism of Roman Bondarchuk’s "Volcano".

What to Keep Your Eyes On

These five films only begin to scratch the surface of modern Ukrainian cinema. Be sure to check out:

  • "The Rising Hawk", nominated for Audience Favourite, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Song for Okean Elzy’s "Pass". (and featured in Part Two of this series);
  • "Winter of the Braves", up for Audience Favourite and Best Supporting Actor (and featured in Part Three of this series); and
  • "Foxter and Max", up for Audience Favourite and Best Visual Effects (and featured in Part Ten of this series).

The Ukrainian Film Academy has plenty in store for viewers, including the new Audience Favourite Award and a special appearance by the always-entertaining Dzidzio, so sit back, pop some popcorn, read this preview, and get set to celebrate the finest Ukrainian cinema had to offer last year.

You can tune into the show today (May 3) at 7 p.m. Kyiv time on the Ukrainian Film Academy’s website or YouTube channel.

Heat Singers (2019)

This absolute cracking documentary covers a topic close to home to nearly every Ukrainian – the blasted heating season! Nadia Parfan’s wonderful "Heat Singers" is one film that will help you truly understand life in modern Ukraine. The film follows the Head of a trade union for Ivano-Frankivsk’s heating company, known for starting the company’s choir. As employees go about the yearly business of attempting to patch up rusted and faulty Soviet-era infrastructure, the choir offers an outlet to relax and even calm down angry customers. This fan favorite explores how outdated social structures no longer fit in a modern world and how human warmth is the ultimate survival mechanism in times of transition. A deft patch-up of comedy and emotion that features fantastic folk songs from Ukraine’s western regions, "Heat Singers" has already become one of Ukrainians’ most beloved documentaries.

Where to watch: At Takflix from 60 hryvnias 

Can I watch in English: Yes, in Ukrainian with English, French, or Polish subtitles


Learn More: Ivano-Frankivsk Tourism Investment Centre, 44 Halytska St., Ivano-Frankivsk, 622 km south-west of Kyiv

Homeward (2019)

One of the most fancied movies to emerge from Ukraine’s cinematic golden age is Ukraine’s 2019 submission to the Academy Awards – "Homeward". Nominated for a leading 11 Golden Dzygas, "Homeward" is a powerful – perhaps even overpowering – emotional experience, Nariman Aliyev’s must-see film looks at how modern events like the annexation of Crimea and war in the East affect people. Told through the lens of a father-and-son road trip from Kyiv to “the homeland”, "Homeward" is an emotional and engaging experience that will help you learn about the Crimean Tatar identity, modern Ukrainian views on Crimea and Donbas, and on how people deal with events beyond their control.

Where to watch: At from 49 hryvnias 

Can I watch in English: Not yet, although as an Academy Award-nominated film, expect them soon.


Learn More: Museum of Crimean Tatar Culture, 13 Kirova Ave., Simferopol, Autonomous Republic of Crimea (currently occupied by Russia, but one can enter from mainland Ukraine)

Hutsulka Ksenia (2019)

You can tell that the Ukrainian cinema scene has come of age after viewing 2019’s unforgettable "Hutsulka Ksenia", a comedy-musical about an American diaspora boy that needs to find a “real Ukrainian girl” within a year to secure a large inheritance. This is not the kind of movie you would have found in the Soviet Union or early independent Ukraine; in fact, it has far more in common with the Wes Anderson cannon than really anything else ever made in Ukraine. Set in the Carpathian Mountains shortly before the Second World War, the film sparkles with quirky writing, impeccable costuming, flamboyant lighting, and wacky musical numbers; like it or not – this movie’ll stick with you. With Dakha Brakha providing the vocals – the same Dakha Brakha that provided the theme song for season three of US TV series "Fargo" – the film’s soundtrack leads the way. In fact, Best Soundtrack and Best Song are two of the nine Golden Dzyga nominations this film has earned. Surely, "Hutsulka Ksenia" will not be to everyone’s taste. But you can at least admire how much Ukrainian cinema has grown.

Where to watch: At from 60 hryvnias

Can I watch in English? Yes.

Trailer: CIXrjY0Tj7c

Learn More: Vorokhta Tourist Centre, Vorokhta, Ivano-Frankvisk region, 637 km south-west of Kyiv

My Thoughts Are Silent (2019)

Perhaps the most defining trait of modern Ukrainian cinema is the deftness directors show when combining comedy and drama – and there may be no finer example than this year’s leading contender for Best Film – Antonio Lukic’s "My Thoughts Are Silent". An award-winning entry at the prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival that is nominated for nine Golden Dzygas, this very funny film looks at a problem common to all societies – disagreement between parent and child. When Vadim is offered the spectacular opportunity to follow his dream in Canada, his mother has a different plan. Weaving laughs and heart into a tale familiar to hundreds of thousands of modern Ukrainians, "My Thoughts Are Silent" is an intelligent and worthy look at an issue that stands at the heart of what it means to be a modern Ukrainian.

Where to watch: At from 49 hryvnias

Can I watch in English: Yes, English and French subtitles are available


Learn More: Uzhhorod Tourist Information Centre, 18/3 A. Voloshyn St., Uzhhorod, Zakarpattia region, 812 km west of Kyiv (near Ukraine's most western point on map)

Volcano (2018)

If modern Ukrainian cinema is defined by comudramas, then black comedies would be right behind. Cue Roman Bondarchuk’s unsettling "Volcano". A film festival darling, and a favourite of the Ukrainian Academy, the movie tells the tale of a translator that gets separated from his OSCE team and finds himself in a peculiar and disquieting village near the border of occupied Crimea. While the war is a constant in the background, Bondarchuk’s film is more an exploration of the queer. With absurdism and surrealism to spare, "Volcano" is a classic example of modern Ukrainian arthouse cinema that has created buzz at film festivals as varied as Karlovy Vary, Odesa, and Vancouver. Always a hit with critics - Bondarchuk’s first film, the equally compelling "Ukrainian Sheriffs", was nominated for Best Documentary at the first Golden Dzyga Awards – "Volcano" should get some love at the fourth Golden Dzyga Awards.

Where to watch: At from 60 hryvnias 

Can I watch in English: Yes, with English subtitles


Learn More: Askania-Nova Biosphere Reserve, Askania-Nova, Kherson region, 698 km south of Kyiv

/By Lee Reaney