SIMFEROPOL – The Holodomor Remembrance Day falls on November 24 this year. Thousands of candles will be lit all over the country in the evening. Or even hundreds of thousands. This is not only a display of respect to millions of deceased, but also a way to keep the memory of them in the public consciousness. However, this memory is an emotion, a symbol. Knowledge and understanding of what was going on in 1921-23, 1932-33, and 1946-47 are more important. That is why the efforts of everyone who is trying to tell about them as exhaustively as possible have a special meaning. It is very much valued when those who are not ethnically connected with Ukraine join the process of preservation and accumulation of memory. Like James Mace. Like the Hollywood director Bobby Leigh, who is now working on a film Holodomor: Ukraine’s Genocide of 1932-33. The film is produced by Marta Tomkiv, an American with a Ukrainian background.
Bobby Leigh’s film is a sort of journey: the director and producer traveled to places where the witnesses of the Holodomor lived, the witnesses traveled to their memories and their past, while the audience traveled to the history of Ukraine reproduced in the film.
It is symptomatic that according to the director, the Holodomor of 1932-33 is still a very little known fact in the US. Instead, some archives contain 80-year-old letters to the US president, which contain detailed description of the artificial famine created in Ukraine, and millions of deaths caused by it. The world learned about it in the 1930s, and forgot in a few decades.
The Day got a chance to talk to Bobby Leigh and Marta Tomkiv about their documentary project.
What was Ukraine like for you before you learned about the Holodomor? How hard was it to comprehend this material?
Bobby LEIGH: “I am interested in history, but it was hard for me to believe something like that could happen. These events are still known to very few people in the US. None of my friends have ever heard about them. It was really hard at the beginning of the film production process, a lot of information I found on the web was contradictory and not completely true. Then I started cooperation with professor Taras Hunchak, who helped me gather the facts.”
Marta TOMKIV: “I am Ukrainian, I went to Ukrainian schools, and I knew about this tragic historical period. My mother gave Bobby a small book about the Holodomor. In a few months we went to listen to a report, where the witnesses of those events spoke. This was in November 2006, in Los Angeles. There is a Holodomor Memorial in that city.”
In what way did you prepare for the film production?
B.L.: “I read books, documents, but I did not watch anything to avoid being under the impression of somebody else’s film. I wanted to create an original product.”
M.T.: “I have been engaged in the information search for a year: I addressed various organizations and individuals, and posted announcements in Ukrainian church newsletters in order to find live witnesses of the Holodomor. We learned where those people lived and how to find them. I also worked in the archives: the world knew about the Holodomor. Italy, United States, other countries – they all knew, but did nothing to help. We worked with copies of declassified government files from Washington of 1928-35. Honored professor Taras Hunchak also provided us with extremely precious materials. Finally, we ended up with a lot of information that could be used for the film.”
Please, tell us about your cooperation with Hunchak.
M.T.: “Professor Taras Hunchak lives in New Jersey. He taught at the Rutgers University, now he is retired, but he remains very active and continues writing books and lectures. He told us he wanted to help make the film well-grounded. Bobby started cooperating with him, and when he received some information, he went to Hunchak to find out if it was reliable or not.”
Where was the film shot?
B.L. and M.T.: “We shot it in Los Angeles, Detroit, New Jersey, Toronto (Canada) and fourteen oblasts of Ukraine. We recorded interviews with witnesses everywhere. Also, the shootings took place at the National Architecture and Daily Life Museum in Pyrohiv. We also rented a helicopter, which flew Bobby and the camera man over Ukraine. It was an old military helicopter without doors and normal sears. Everyone was happy when they landed.”
Who financed the production of the movie?
M.T.: “We paid for the first 57 short movies ourselves. And then a movement in the project’s support was created, newspapers published announcements about fund raising. The Ukrainian Diaspora in America was of great help. But even this money was not enough.”
When James Mace chose the Holodomor in Ukraine to be the theme of his thesis, he could not find a decent job in the United States after that. Did you face any difficulties caused by the film production?
M.T.: “We did not come across any obstacles in the United States. But we have had problems in Ukraine. Before the arrival, we were told that we had to be very careful. We were provided with a house that was our shelter, we had our personal driver. But we received many calls and letters from Ukrainians, who thanked us, showed archives, and gave us unique photographs. However, there were also people who tried to stop us and make the production very hard.”
Who did you create this film for?
B.L. and M.T.: “For people who are interested in history and want to discover the yet unknown pages. Those who survived the Holodomor, survived a nightmare. This page of history is important not for Ukrainians only, it has to interest people all around the world. Our film is for everyone. We tried to bring the audience of any country closer to the understanding of this topic.”
How do you plan to distribute the film?
M.T.: “The Internet distribution is being prepared. We also plan to distribute the film in schools and universities. We are also going to show it on TV, and for that we have to convert it to a required format.”
How will American children perceive this topic?
M.T.: “Bobby has two daughters who have already watched a part of the project. One of them made a presentation for her class. Children were shocked, they had known nothing of it. We showed the film to our friends’ children: they understand it was horrible, but let those events pass through them.”
When are you going to visit Ukraine with a presentation of the film?
M.T.: “We do not know yet. First, we need to finish it. In particular, we need to create the soundtrack, and this requires money. We also do not know what consequences the display of the film will have. I guess they will be unique for every single viewer.”