HotDocs begins today – features two films in Ukraine

Two documentaries about life in Ukraine are to be featured in the Toronto HotDocs film festival which starts today.  One’s about a 15 year-old in eastern Ukraine who works illegal coal mines to help feed his family, while the other features a family raising over 20 orphans, 16 of them who are black, and the xenophobia they encounter.

Pit No. 8

Snizhne, a Ukrainian mining town that thrived during Soviet-era occupation, is today plagued by crushing poverty. For years, the town’s desperate residents have been illegally mining coal on their own, dangerously excavating abandoned mines, the basements of condemned buildings, the nearby woods, and even their own backyards. Everyone digs to survive—women, retirees, unemployed miners, even children. Since leaving his alcoholic mother’s home, 15-year-old Yura has put his schooling and his dream of becoming a cook on hold. He takes it upon himself to provide for his sisters the only way he knows how: by working the illegal pits. Yura shoulders familial responsibilities—parenting, shopping, cooking meals, making ends meet—in the absence of adults. The parental perspective on the children’s situation? “They want to eat, so they work.” A heart-rending case of children forced to grow up too quickly with no role models. – Angie Driscoll

Fri, Apr 29 7:00 PM
Cumberland 3

Sun, May 1 4:00 PM
Cumberland 3

Mon, May 2 6:45 PM
Innis Town Hall

HotDocs movie page


Family Portrait in Black and White

Here’s an emotionally absorbing subject filled with layers of complexity. In a modest house in a small Ukrainian town, Olga Nenya raises 27 kids, among them 16 black children who were abandoned by their mothers and orphaned because of their race.

There’s tension with the outside community – ignorant neighbours, tsk-tsking health inspectors – but there’s also bickering within the mixed family, as the loving, hardworking yet hardline Nenya gushes over one no-good son while standing in the way of another’s talent for soccer or a daughter’s desire to move to Italy. (After the Chernobyl disaster, a summer exchange between Ukrainian kids and European families began.)

The next-to-last scene, in which one of Nenya’s children describes his treatment in a psych institution, is so full of horrific details it couldn’t be made up.

Mon, May 2 6:45 PM
Cumberland 2

Wed, May 4 4:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Sun, May 8 3:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

HotDocs movie page

The last time I wrote about the documentary film festival HotDocs was back in 2008 for the English Surgeon – featuring a British doctor who travels to Ukraine to perform free surgeries for people.

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