After the excursion yesterday, Igor drove us through Kharkov, its streets lined with majestic churches and monuments, to "Bommer" (WEBSITE), the oldest cinema in the city and the main venue of the STEPS Rights Festival (WEBSITE).
Once inside the cinema, I received my festival pass and film schedule. As I admired the original flooring on the staircase, I had that feeling of “going to the movies” that no multiplex could ever reproduce.
Prior to the afternoon screenings, we were ushered through a film-poster-and-photograph-lined hall on the way to the cinema for a press conference. It was here that I learned the meaning of the festival title “STEPS”.
Although I had thought that “STEPS” was an acronym, festival president and film director Igor Parfenov, explained that the festival is named for the Leo Tolstoy essay “The First Step” (1892), which depicts the world of slaughter houses and the merits of vegetarianism. The way Igor described it, the essay sounds much like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, although it was written some fourteen years earlier.
From the packed audience that was assembled, a journalist spoke. She noted that Mother Theresa had once said that she would not wage war against war as that would only be causing more war***. The journalist then addressed Igor directly: Is it possible that the often violent and shocking nature of the films presented during the festival might only be multiplying the pain which they depict rather than serve to do anything constructive to stop it?
“Blood,” Igor replied, “has a beautifying, cleansing effect.”
Each of the film directors in attendance had their turn in the firing line, but it was perhaps because of the terrible kinship between Fukushima and Chernobyl that the only fire aimed at me was friendly.
A reception was then held in the cinema lobby where Ukranian wine from the Crimea region and small open-faced sandwiches on rich homemade bread were served.
Igor, a kind and attentive host, noticed I wasn’t eating. Glancing at the cheese and meat sandwiches, I apologized and explained that I am a vegetarian.
“Do you really think that I would serve meat?! Did you listen to anything I just said at the press conference?!” Igor roared with a smile as he shoved a tray of sandwiches into my face. “Eat! This isn’t even real cheese. It’s all vegan.”
Immediately following the reception, the screening of ‘A2-B-C’ (WEBSITE) was held. The audience was rustling in their seats and talking throughout the film. Convinced that it was not going over well and unable to gauge the audience’s reaction as I couldn't understand what they were saying, I kept turning to Alina, my minder and interpreter, and asking what was wrong. “They’re OK,” she said. “Stop worrying.”
Following the screening, person after person came up to greet me. “Thank you for making this,” one young man said. “We had no idea this was happening again.”
*** note: I have tried unsuccessfully to find this quote, which was paraphrased by a Ukrainian journalist and translated into English by a simultaneous interpreter.