Odesa: Potemkin steps and power cut
Nov 23, 2011 Posted in: Blog/News 0

Our last screening – for this tour at least – took place in Odesa. We arrived to the Southern port city by the early morning train and we were scheduled to have a screening at the Ukrainian Club of Odesa at 2pm.  We knew that this last screening was going to be with a smaller but more focused audience. Today, in modern Odesa, Ukrainians are a minority after Russians and Jews and relations between the different groups and communities can be very tense. That’s why it took us by surprise that there was a much greater interest in Odesa than was originally anticipated by the organizers. We were expecting around 30 people – mostly academics or community leaders – but it turned out that the Ukrainian Club had to set up an additional room and have two simultaneous screenings in order to accommodate around 75 people from the Ukrainian, Jewish and Polish communities. There were many more who were not able to get in.

During the screenings, we usually look forward to taking a small break and having a coffee somewhere near by, because just between us, we cannot stand watching the film yet another time. But in Odesa, we had parked our luggage at the Ukrainian Club, and so we just sat in the room next door to the main screening hall. Thank goodness we stayed put. About halfway through the showing, we heard loud footsteps and some sort of commotion near by. “The power went off” someone said. “It’s a provocation” someone else replied, half joking “the electricity went off with the first mention of the KGB.” Not knowing if the power would come back or not, we decided to start the discussion even though the film was only past the first story.

About twenty minutes later, the power came back and we were able to finish the viewing.

Maybe because we had started the discussion just after Aharon’s story (the Jewish perspective) or maybe because of the pre-existing tensions in the city, the discussion was very heated to say the least. It was very interesting for us to note that in Lviv – where we were warned that we might encounter some serious Ukrainian nationalist reactions – there was nothing as such. On the contrary, even with many remarks of our moderator that were purposefully provocative to the Ukrainian audience, the people of Lviv remained very balanced and open-minded. Many audience members in Odesa on the other hand were very defensive towards the portrayal of Ukrainian history in the film.  Some felt very strongly for example about the necessity of giving more attention to the period between 1939 and 1941 – the Soviet atrocities during their first occupation of Galicia.

Interestingly, during the screening in Kharkiv where Russians and Ukrainians are a majority, the most heated comments came from representatives from the Jewish community who felt that not enough attention as given to the Holocaust and the issues of collaborators.

But even with all the differences of opinions, the audience agreed that “everyone should see this film.”

After the screening, we were surrounded by many people. One woman said: “I am a simple retired soviet engineer. I am trying to make sense of the history for the sake of my children. Nowadays in Ukraine, history is so politicized that I tell them to learn history through the stories of our family. That’s why I brought my daughter today with me to hear the stories in your film. Thank you.”


On a lighter note, we did manage to devote half an hour to seeing the city and we made it to the legendary Potemkin steps – much to the delight of Sarah who had seen them many times in film school but never in real life.




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