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Across the Former Soviet Union Spielberg Foundation Helps Produce Holocaust Film Shooting in Ukraine

April 10, 2006
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There’s a lot of Holocaust documentaries, but not many that have been filmed in Ukraine. Add one to the list.

A new documentary, co-produced by the Los Angeles-based Shoah Foundation, is shooting in Ukraine.

The film should be completed by September, in time for the 65th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre.

The 70-minute documentary will focus on Babi Yar, the infamous ravine just outside Kiev where some 33,000 Jews were slaughtered in the last few days of September 1941.

It also will deal with the larger history of the Holocaust in Ukraine, according to the Shoah Foundation’s president and chief executive officer, Douglas Greenberg.

Greenberg told Ukrainian reporters last week that the bulk of the film’s material will come from the video archives of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, created by filmmaker Steven Spielberg after he finished his 1994 Oscar award-winning “Schindler’s List.”

The foundation has so far collected 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors in 56 countries, speaking in 32 languages, including 3,200 interviews from Ukrainian survivors.

Both Greenberg and Spielberg have family roots in Ukraine.

According to Greenberg, the foundation’s mission now is to bring these testimonies back to the countries they were collected in order to educate the local populations about the Holocaust.

Greenberg said he hopes the film will eventually be distributed in Ukrainian schools. Work is under way to create a teacher’s guide so Ukrainian teachers can use the film in their Holocaust lessons.

Approximately one-fifth of the film will be new material shot in Ukraine this past year, Greenberg said. Interviews with Ukrainian Jews remembering the country’s prewar Jewish community will make up much of this material.

The documentary is co-produced by Ukrainian Jewish oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, a son-in-law of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and a major donor to the Jewish community in his native Dnepropetrovsk. Budget figures have not been disclosed.

Greenberg says Spielberg and Pinchuk were introduced to each other by a mutual friend a year and a half ago.

“We’ve always wanted to make a documentary film about the Holocaust in Ukraine, because it’s such an important chapter” in the overall history of the Holocaust, Greenberg said. “And there was Mr. Pinchuk, who was also interested in the subject.”

Pinchuk’s spokesman, Thomas Eymond-Laritaz, described his boss’s participation in the project as “a tribute to the Jewish community he was brought up in” as well as his “desire to participate in something that would eventually benefit the wider world community.”

Film director Sergey Bukovsky, a 20-year veteran of the local film industry, said that the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to much “creative directing,” but said he would try to make it as engaging as possible.

“We looked for other solutions to avoid having just ‘talking heads,’ ” Bukovsky said. “There will be Jewish artifacts and scenes from the old Jewish towns in western Ukraine in the film.”

Bukovsky, who is not Jewish, said he had to resist the temptation to editorialize. “The biggest challenge for me has been finding a balance between educating and moralizing in the film,” he said.

One thing that makes the Ukrainian project stand out from similar documentaries produced by the Shoah Foundation in other countries, Greenberg said, is that it will include the testimony of Ukrainians who helped Jews during World War II.

Distribution plans have yet to be finalized, but Greenberg said he expects the film will be shown on Ukrainian television, and he hopes for a theatrical release in Ukraine as well.

The film will be released in both Ukrainian and Russian, Ukraine’s two official languages, and will be subtitled in English for the United States, Europe and Israel.

“This is a story that isn’t Ukrainian or American, Polish or German,” Greenberg said.

“It’s a human story, and from this point of view, the fact that it’s going to be told about Ukrainians and in the languages that Ukrainians speak makes it very important.”

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