stills from The Close River, 27’, 16mm transferred to digital, 2020
Shot over the course of three weeks, in various locations in western Ukraine, The Close River is a poetic investigation of a region with multiple overlapping temporalities of colonisation and exploitation. The film traces shifting borders and markers of power, exploring how the histories of coexistence, violence and resistance are carved into the landscape and culture of the region, and ultimately how they shape contemporary ways of living.
The constraints for the research are set by the historical and geographical land of Galicia, a territory straddling the border between contemporary Poland and Ukraine. Once on the periphery of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with an extended history of Polish and Soviet colonial rule, Galicia has been a cradle of Ukrainian national identity and independence, with the region playing an active role in the 2004-5 and 2014 Ukrainian revolutions.
The Close River takes the form of an observational documentary, shot on 16mm colour film. Setting out from the Polish-Ukrainian border, the camera makes an itinerant journey along the river Dniester, eventually reaching the Ukrainian Carpathians. This mountain range once marked the pre-war Polish-Czechoslovakian border and forms the nucleus of Hutsul culture, a distinct ethnic group within Ukraine. The work takes its title from a possible derivation of the word ‘Dniester’ from ‘the close river’ in the Sarmatian language (as opposed to the river Dnieper, whose name is thought to derive from ‘the river on the far side’).
The camera is an active and sensitive observer. Through it, we encounter an abandoned astronomical observatory, a Hutsul-modernist airport, ruins of former oil industry, a statue of a national hero; all motifs which recall colonial powers or nationalist struggles. These historical touchstones are interspersed with images of leisure and work, noticeably female labourers (resellers, cleaners and singers); and recurring images of the river – a constant witness to the unfolding histories of the region.
The soundtrack, composed of field recordings from the same locations, spans rural soundscapes, the interior of a city-centre hotel, former soviet markets, incidental conversations and impromptu musical renditions. The sound and image tracks fall in and out of line with each other, sometimes appearing to be synchronised, and at others creating playful juxtapositions. In the absence of a narrator, this interplay is left to evoke the quotidian rhythms of the region, with the songs recorded at a campfire in Didova Khatchyna – an autonomous community in the Carpathian mountains – embodying the painful history of many of its inhabitants.
A film by Marta Hryniuk
With: Nick Thomas, Khrystyna Bunii
Camera, edit: Marta Hryniuk
Additional camera: Nick Thomas
Sound recording: Nick Thomas
Sound mix: Robert Kroos
Singers: Denis Ivaniv, Oleg Lukaniuk, Marko Halanevych, Uliana Gorbachevska, Daryna Furmaniuk, Khrystyna Bunii
Translations: Vitalii Maliuskyi, Khrystyna Bunii
Filmed and recorded in Ukraine. Locations: Medyka, Polish-Ukrainian border; river Dniester (Sambir, Halych and Zalishchyky); Boryslav and Drohobych oil fields; Drohobych; Sambir; Hotel George, Lviv; Nadvirna; Ivano-Frankivsk Airport; Ivano-Frankivsk; Yavoriv (Didova Khatchyna); Chornohora; Solone.
Archival footage: Urban Media Archive, Lviv Center for Urban History of East Central Europe.
Thanks: Khrystyna Bunii, Liesbeth Bik, Tomek Hryniuk, Clara J:son Borg, Oleksandr Makhanets, Ewa Nizińska, Yevgeniya Nekrasova, Erika Roux, Jadwiga Olech, Nick Thomas, Lichun Tseng, WET.
This event is part of an artist’s research project supported by CBK Rotterdam.
Please contact the artist to see the film