The Ukraine doc set to follow Navalny Oscar win

Over the last three decades of Academy Awards for best documentary, many of the winners have focused on political events or political figures, from Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour (2014), which documents an encounter with whistleblower Edward Snowden, to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002), which examined a school shooting and US gun laws. A winning documentary made on the frontline of a war would be a first in modern Oscar history. (Oscar-winning World War Two documentaries, such as 1943’s Desert Victory and 1945’s The True Glory were made by the British and US Ministries of Information.)

Chernov, who’s currently based in Germany, says he now wants to make another documentary about the war in Ukraine, and to find new ways of elevating the genre.

“I feel that just to be able to really show people what war is like, you have to find the right cinematic language to lead them through the story,” he argues. “So I am working on finding the right visual language to do that because I feel that a lot of modern documentaries about war lack this realism. They get overproduced, although they’re all incredibly important. But I think talking about war as it really is can be chaotic, unpredictable, destructive and you also have to stick to a certain visual language to be able to take the audience there.”

The Associated Press team eventually escaped Mariupol with the help of Ukrainian soldiers, shortly before Russian forces bombed a theatre that was being used as an air raid shelter for civilians. Chernov explains that he carried so-called “survivors’ guilt” out of the city with him as well.

“Everybody I interviewed shared it too. Across all these very different people with different circumstances, they all had that feeling of survivor’s guilt – that they’d got out, and other people didn’t, and they died. I think we really felt that when we heard about the bombing of the theatre, and we knew that we couldn’t do anything about it.

“There were thousands of cars that were leaving the city. We all felt guilty in some way. And that is a very strong drive.” When propaganda is used to try and sway the outcome of a conflict, documentaries like 20 Days in Mariupol or Navalny can be a powerful way to fight back. “I still feel that I owe this to people of Mariupol who helped us to survive, to those who lost everything, including their lives. I just owe them to do everything I can to make sure that their story will not be forgotten. And that’s what we are doing right now. And that’s why the film exists.”

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *