"Friendship is more powerful than war"

Some days ago I had an Skype-Interview with Yelizaveta Smith the director of the Ukrainian film „Shkola Nomer 3“. She couldn‘t be at the Berlinale in person, because she gave birth to her child. So I am very happy that I got the opportunity to talk with her via Skype. Yelizaveta is a very nice person and I was curious to find out more about the background of this great and touching documentary.

How did you meet those wonderful children and how did you start the project?
When the war in the Ukraine began many people who took part in the revolution didn't know what to do. I felt this kind of panic inside myself – I felt powerless. Then me and my friends were invited to take part in a volunteering program, where we had to go to eastern Ukraine. At that time it was free from the Russian military. Our goal was to go to that school in the Donezk area and to rebuild it together with the local people. So we went to that school and that is how we met the children for the first time. 
One of the first things we made together with the children was the celebration of the St. Nicolas day. It was very nice and fun. From the first day we were bonding very well with the children. A few month later we returned to make a documentary theatre play. Then we started to shoot our work with the children and that was the beginning of the movie.

How did you make the children open up to you?
To be honest, when we went to the place the first time people didn't like us. They thought we wanted something from them. But when they understood, that it was safe and we only wanted to speak, you didn't need to make them open up any more, because they kind of needed to speak. They have seen and felt things they need to tell to other people.

Were there any problems while making this film?
Well, we didn't have any money to make this film at first. I don't remember difficulties with the children. Of course with some of them it took some time, but that is normal and I wouldn't call it a problem. At the beginning some parents didn't like what we were doing, but after some time they understood that we weren't doing something dangerous.

In your movie it sometimes seemed to me, that you had talked to the children before you were filming and then said to them: „now tell us the story of..." So how did you work?  Did you already knew the stories before you were filming?
It depends on the scene. Some stories we knew before, because the monologues were part of the documentary theatre play. This is a kind of therapy for the person who is telling the story and helps him deal with it.
But some monologues were happening for the first time.
I decided to let the children speak in monologues because I wanted the viewers to feel like the children were talking to them. That is why I let the children speak the whole story into the camera.

Could you try to tell the message of your film in one sentence?
I can try.
This is what those children taught me and what I want the movie to give to the viewers: In the end those teenager who went through the war - their first love, their friendship, their life is much more powerful than the effects of the war.

Yes, as I watched the film I felt like there is no big difference between the teenagers and me. It could be me talking in your film. We have the same problems, the only difference is that they live in a country where there is war.

How was your reaction when you heard that your film got an award?

Its kind of absurd. Now those children from Donezk area - that was so destroyed, they are now on the stage with their Ukrainian flag. This is really cool.
22.02.17, Liv Thastum

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