Harriman Institute

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Film Discussion: Atlantis

This event was held virtually as a Zoom webinar and streamed via YouTube LiveAttendees could view the film prior to the event at this pay-per-view link.

Please join the Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University, the Harriman Institute, and Grasshopper Film for an online discussion of Ukraine’s entry for the Academy Awards, Atlantis (2019), with the director Valentyn Vasyanovych, moderated by Professor Yuri Shevchuk.

The post-war dystopian drama Atlantis (theatrically released in Ukraine in November 2020 and in the United States in January 2021) is a story of people maimed by war and desperately trying to find themselves in the Ukraine of 2025. The Russian occupiers have been expelled, Donbas and Crimea liberated, but the wounds of war continue to fester. Now the enemy is within, he is invisible, he is everywhere, and he is lethal. The enemy is the war trauma. He turns people against one another and drives many to suicide. The film’s protagonist Serhii (Andrii Rymaruk), like thousands of other war veterans, suffers from a paralyzing post-traumatic stress disorder. He feels lost, confused, and shunned by society. Civilian life makes no sense to him. He is besieged by demons of war and death. Instead of fleeing into self-pity and self-destruction, he confronts them, and finds the courage to face death. Serhii joins the volunteer organization Black Tulip which looks for, exhumes, identifies, and reinters all the war dead, since only after the very last is properly identified and buried is the war truly over.

Serhii’s is a story of rebirth through love. When all seems lost, he meets a woman who introduces order, sense, and purpose into his devastated world. Their love sprouts in the most unlikely of places, filled with doom and death. Vasyanovych’s Atlantis celebrates the invincibility of human spirit, the hope that love gives us even in the darkest hour.

Atlantis received highly positive reviews in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times called the movie “immensely compelling” adding that “We are fortunate to have artists like Vasyanovych to show us what’s dazzling, strange, tragic, comic, touching, and eventually optimistic about the way forward.”

The Italian film critic and director David Grieco wrote about Atlantis, “Ukraine can represent all the world thanks to a film like this, a world where the war takes the place of the work, generated by the lack of work, and everything seems terribly insane because what’s left of whatever dictatorship of the last century is totally inane. […] The locations, the photography, the actors, the script, the deliberate lack of music, everything in my opinion says masterpiece. And the love scene in the van, which I bet is real, seems the resurrection of humanity. […] Yes, we finally understand that we have to keep on living …”

In the opinion of many film critics Atlantis is the most important Ukrainian film made since the Soviet collapse. It won the Best Film Award in the Orizzonti Section of the Venice International Film Festival, and was hailed at more than fifty other international film festivals around the world, including the TIFF, Tokyo, Sevilla, and Hamburg.

Atlantis is Ukraine’s official submission for the “Best International Feature Film” category of the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021.

Valentyn Vasyanovych (b. 1971) was trained first as cinematographer and then documentary film director at the National Ivan Karpenko-Kary University for Theater, Film, and Television in Kyiv, Ukraine. He debuted as a documentary filmmaker and then branched out into the feature narrative genre with his tragicomedy Business as Usual (2012). For his work as director of photography in the feature film The Tribe (2015) (director Myroslav Slaboshpytsky) he was awarded the European Film Award for the European Discovery of the Year. Vasyanovych has been member of the Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University since 2005. The Club screened his Counterclockwise (2004), Business as Usual Credenza (2013), The Dusk (2014), and Level of Black (2017) both on campus and in other venues in the United States and Canada.

We are proud to organize this event for Atlantis in cooperation with its US distributor Grasshopper Film. Grasshopper Film is a distribution company dedicated to the release of acclaimed and award-winning independent film.

Yuri Shevchuk’s interview with Valentyn Vasyanovych can be found here.

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