Covering this year’s Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival (March 23-30), a 15-year old event held primarily in Podil, an eclectic artists’ hub (think Kreuzberg or Williamsburg on the cusp of gentrification) and one of the oldest neighborhoods in Kiev, was an experience both endlessly inspiring and completely surreal. And though I’ve attended other fests in once communist countries (Camerimage in Poland, Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic), my first visit to Ukraine also marked the first time at an international fest that I found myself fully aware of my otherness. (Possibly because I was the only American in attendance.) And the first time the host country’s current events colored every screening, each discussion and random encounter. Indeed, the Euromaidan Revolution had overthrown the government of Viktor Yanukovych just four years prior, and the subsequent War in Donbass still rages today. The ongoing conflict with Russian separatists (and the Kremlin), as the locals told me over and over, is a “sensitive” topic.
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