Kyiv recently witnessed a momentous event: the premiere of Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn. The screening was important not only for our audiences but for the director himself. “I never thought I would live to see this moment and be able to show it here, where the film is set,” Wajda said.
Katyn, near Smolensk, has become the symbol of a terrible 20th-century tragedy: the massacre by the NKVD of Polish army officers who were taken prisoner after the partition of Poland. Most of them were shot in Katyn, where the burials were first discovered in 1943. Executions also took place in other areas: the ashes of the director’s father, cavalry artillery officer Jakub Wajda, rest in the vicinity of Piatykhatky, near Kharkiv.
On April 16, the day of the premiere, The Day published a review article entitled “Rough treatment” by Serhii Trymbach, who writes that Katyn was bound to appear. The film does not just explore an aspect of the great film director’s biography. Wajda’s films have always sparked “moral anxiety,” concern over the destiny of the Poles and all of mankind, which, despite everything, does not want “to be better.” In this sense, the making of Katyn is only natural for the 82-year-old classic of world cinema.
President Viktor Yushchenko also attended the premiere, which was organized by the Polish Institute of Cinema, the Polish Cultural Center, and the Ukrainian Cinema Foundation. “Some people will think that this film is dedicated to the Poles, or to history, or to dozens of thousands of people. What I see in this film is the history of sovereignty,” the president said before the screening. Thanks to the vast efforts of Wajda and other Polish artists, Ukrainian audiences now have a chance to see “part of our history...I bow to Mr. Andrzej Wajda for this great film,” President Yushchenko said.
Then the Ukrainian leader bestowed the Order of Yaroslav the Wise, 5th degree, on Wajda for his outstanding contribution to Ukrainian-Polish cooperation. The Polish filmmaker thanked the president and, making a joke to hide his nervousness, quipped: “Where on earth have you seen wise film directors?” The audience appreciated the joke and applauded. The great cinematic master deserves this award not only for his talent and wisdom but also for his exceptional courage.
Why is it important for all Ukrainians to see this film? The first and most important reason is that it is frightening and painful to learn history. Some people say it is better not to open up old wounds but to drive the truth deep into oblivion and go on living, if not happily then quietly, as some characters in the film try to do - as entire states, like our neighbors, are trying to do. Why should people repent, even though they personally did nothing wrong? To speak the truth and be heard is difficult and at times fatally dangerous in the literal sense.
Katyn is about this, too. The events in this film occurred not so long ago, but it took the world half a century to speak up about Katyn. How long did it take us to say everything or almost everything about the Holodomor? What would have changed if we had not learned the truth? Everything. The country, and we ourselves, would be different today, and I suspect worse.
Viacheslav BRIUKHOVETSKY, Honorary President of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy:
“After seeing this film you want to keep silent because, first of all, a terrible tragedy has been recreated, and, second, the film penetrates very deeply. It is filled with pain. In my opinion, the Communist and Socialist parties should convene their congresses to see the film. Obviously, this cannot be done by force. So we must go on speaking more boldly and frankly about the crimes of the Soviet regime.”
Bohdan STUPKA, People’s Artist of Ukraine:
“I want as many people as possible to see Katyn. This film is a catharsis for our society. How can one continue to live without this catharsis? A full-blooded life is only possible after purification and learning the historical truth, no matter how painful it is. We should not leave it to the next generations to unearth this truth. It is like a suppressed ancestral sin. The Gospels say: know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Hanna CHMIL, chairperson of the State Department Service of Cinematic Art:
“By creating Katyn, Andrzej Wajda carried out a great mission on behalf of the Polish people. Watching the film, I suddenly found myself thinking that we, Ukrainians, still have a lot of investigations ahead of us in order to expose the truth about ourselves, reconsider our dramatic past, and recreate our tragedies on the screen. I think this dead weight of questions exposes the state of our society. But the same society also has an endless number of brilliant and extraordinary personalities in the arts and sciences who should investigate things further, expose the historical truth, and encourage all of us to reconsider the past. We need this to purge ourselves, restore our national identity, and build a civil society.”