WARSAW (AP) — When Polish filmmaker Maciek Hamela began photographing Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war against his country, he had no intention of making a film. He was one of several Poles who provided humanitarian aid to attacked neighbors and turned down an offer to film a television investigation there.
But the reflections of the people he was escorting to safety in his truck were so moving that he soon started filming them. He asked a friend who is a cinematographer to help him film and drive, and he aimed his camera directly at his passengers as they passed through his war-torn country.
The result is “In the Rearview”, a documentary which is being presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in France as part of a parallel program dedicated to independent cinema.
The Polish-French co-production, which takes place almost entirely in Hamela’s van, cameras captured distraught passengers, taking the group one after the other on countless trips between March and November 2022.
The result is a portrait of men, women and children crossing a dangerous landscape of bombed-out buildings and checkpoints on a journey marked by dangerous mines and collapsed bridges and roads.
In this 84-minute film, a girl has been shown so shocked that she stopped speaking. There is a Congolese woman who was so severely injured that she has had 18 operations since Hemela rescued her. A mother with two children wading through the Dnieper River. The children think it is the sea and ask their mother if she will take them there after the battle.
Hemela told The Associated Press in an interview in Warsaw before traveling to Cannes, “The way we prepared the film was to see the reflection of war in these little details of ordinary life and the lives of all of us. “
There’s some humour, too, with one woman remarking ironically that she’s always wanted to travel. Another woman walks in with her cat, saying the animal needs to stop and go to the bathroom.
So as not to exploit the people she was helping, Hemela told them that there was a camera in a car before picking them up. And they signed forms allowing the images to be used after they arrived safely at their destination so they never realized it was a condition of their help.
“In the Rearview” also documents one of many Polish efforts to help Ukraine. When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there was a massive effort by citizens to help across Poland, with ordinary people using their free time to travel to the Ukrainian border to distribute food. were doing for Some would pick up strangers and take them to shelters or even their own homes.
Hamela started raising money for the Ukrainian military from day one. On the third day, he bought a van to transport Ukrainians to the Polish border and convinced his father to open his lovely summer house to strangers.
Soon a friend told him that there were people in eastern Ukraine who needed rescuing, and he began going to the war front to pick them up. Some emerged from the cellars where they had taken refuge from terror.
When the war began, Hamela was working on a documentary about the crisis on the Polish–Belarusian border. Large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and Africa attempted to cross that border in 2021. Poland and other EU countries saw this as a staged attempt by Russia’s ally Belarus to destabilize Poland and other EU countries.
Poland reacted by pushing back the immigrants, killing some in the region’s forests and marshes, and building a wall to keep them out.
The war in Ukraine prompted Hemela to abandon the project, which would have focused on the indifference of some Polish border communities to the plight of immigrants and refugees.
After taking a closer look at both crises, he finds a connection.
“This is my personal opinion, I really believe that it was to protest the Poles against all refugees in preparation for the war with Ukraine,” he said.
Hamela, now 40, was also active in supporting Ukrainians involved in the 2014 Euromaidan, which led to Russia’s initial attacks in Ukraine.
He says the world shown in his documentary could hardly be further from the glamorous area of Cannes, and he hopes it will remind people how much is at stake in Ukraine.
“We’re trying to use this coverage to remind everyone that the war is on and lives must be saved. And Ukraine is not going to win it without our help,” he said. “So that’s the thing with this film.”