Most people get their news about the conflict in Ukraine from brief news clips and stories, without ever hearing first-hand accounts from the people who are there.
Now a documentary film brings this tragedy into sharp focus. Maciek Hamela’s In the Rearview makes its North American debut Sept. 12 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
The Polish-French-Ukrainian documentary film is an intimate account of the course of the invasion told by the people who have fled from it. It shows a portrait of a country that has just been uprooted by tragedy.
“Maciek Hamela’s minimalist debut documentary is an expansive road trip through an invasion that drove more than 15 million refugees — more than one-third of Ukraine’s population — in search of safer pastures,” wrote Dorota Lech, a Polish-born Lead Programmer for TIFF, in the description of the film.
“Hamela’s tenacity as driver and director turns the van into a portal between past and future. For audiences who have not known occupation, fatigue at news from Ukraine may be understandable. For Ukrainians, there is no other option but to focus on the road ahead.”
Hamela, who was born in Warsaw, studied at a film school in Paris and worked as a guide. His clients included tourists from Russia so he learned some of the language and also understood a little about the Russian character.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, Hamela has been a volunteer, helping to raise money and humanitarian aid for Ukrainians. He moved from Warsaw to a location closer to the Polish-Ukrainian border, and began transporting Ukrainian refugees to Poland and helping them adapt to their new country.
Later, Hamela said his help was needed more urgently by people nearer the military operation zones. In March 2022, he used a donated seven-seater minivan to drive to eastern Ukraine. From there, he transported people from military conflict zones to the western part of the country. A few weeks later, he started recording conversations on camera with some of the people he was helping to evacuate.
“I invited a friend who is a DoP (director of photography) who brought in a camera and we started documenting,” Hamela said in an interview for Deadline Hollywood.
“We thought it could be used as testimony in some kind of process trial, like in The Hague. What we are really documenting is first-hand witness accounts of military crimes.”
Hamela began to collect material for the documentary, and for six months, the volunteer director evacuated about 400 people, some of whom became the heroes of his film.
The world premiere of In the Rearview took place at the last Cannes International Film Festival and won top prizes at Warsaw’s Docs Against Gravity and at the Sheffield DocFest.The film is also the winner of the best Ukrainian full-length documentary film in the National Competition of the 14th Odesa International Film Festival.
“Every festival selection, every award and international recognition, brings more opportunity to keep raising awareness about the tragedy that is still very much ongoing,” says a post on the film’s Facebook page after it won the Sheffield DocFest in June.