PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Associated Press video journalist Mstislav Chernov had just flown out of Mariupol after covering his first 20 days. from the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian city and was feeling guilty about leaving. He and his colleagues, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and producer Vasilisa Stepanenko, were the last journalists there, sending important messages from a city under massive attack.
The next day, a theater with hundreds of people taking shelter inside was bombed And he knew there was no one there to document it. That’s when Chernov decided he wanted to do something bigger. He shot about 30 hours of footage during his days in Mariupol. But poor internet connection and lack thereof at times makes it very difficult to export anything. All told, it’s estimated that only about 40 minutes of that made it to the world.
“Those shots that came out were very important. They went to the Associated Press and then to thousands of news outlets,” Chernov said. “However, I had so much more than that…. I thought I had to do something more. I had to do something more with 30 hours of footage to tell a bigger story and more context to show an audience the scale.”
Chernov then decided he wanted to make a documentary. That movie, “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 she plays in competition.
There were, he knew, many ways to tell this story. But he decided early on to keep it for the harrowing first twenty days he and his colleagues were on Earth, to evoke the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped. He also chose to tell it himself and tell the story as a journalist would.
“It’s just a lens through which we see the stories of the people of Mariupol, their death, their suffering and the destruction of their homes,” he said. “At the same time, I felt that I could do it. I am allowed to do it because I am part of the community. I was born in eastern Ukraine and (a) the photographer who worked with me was born in the neighboring city of Mariupol, which was occupied. So this is our story too.”
As an employee of the AP, Chernov was well aware of maintaining neutrality and impartiality.
He said, “It’s okay to tell the audience how you feel.” “It’s just important not to let those feelings dictate what you show and what you don’t show…. While I’m watered, I still try to keep it fair.”
He has experienced quite a few different reactions to his and his fellow Earth’s existence. Some thanked them for doing their job. Some called them whores. Some doctors urged them to film footage of wounded and dying children to show the world what had been done.
After Chernov left Mariupol and finally caught up with news reports around the world, he was shocked at the impact their footage seemed to have. They followed up with people they met during their time there, some exited, some not, and asked whether or not it had affected their lives.
Some said relatives found them because of the footage, or that they were able to get help. Doctors and officials said he 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 what’s going on,” Chernov said. “But I would really like to believe we made a difference, because I think that’s what journalism is about, to inform people so they can make certain decisions.”
Another task for him was to provide historical evidence of possible war crimes. Chernov is well aware that the war has not even become history yet. It is an ongoing painful reality.
At Sundance, he was able to watch the film, “Frontline” edited by Michelle Mizner, with an audience of two times. The film received a standing ovation at its premiere. At a later performance, he met several audience members who said they were from Mariupol and that their relatives were fleeing the besieged city at the same time as he was. Theatres, they have counselors on standby in case anyone needs support.
“I was hoping they would have an emotional response and they did. But at the same time, it’s hard to watch people cry.” “When you put an audience for 90 minutes into this chaos and this chaos and this violence, there is a risk that people will get too overwhelmed or even pushed back by the amount of that violence.
“You just want to show what it really was like,” he added. “That was the main challenge of making choices while assembling the film. How do you show gravity but at the same time not push the audience away? … We’ve already had two screenings and the audience responses have been very strong. People cry, people are depressed and they express a wide range of emotions, From anger to sadness to grief. That’s what I intended to do as a director. But at the same time, I realize that maybe this isn’t easy for everyone.”
Now Chernov wants to get back to work.
He said, “I just want to go back.” “After Sundance we’ll 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 Sundance Film Festival coverage, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/sundance-film-festival.