Eva Dzhyshyashvili • Director of Plai. A Mountain Path
“I wanted to tell this story through the children, because they are such wise kids”
- The Ukrainian director breaks down her feature-length documentary debut, which revolves around the life of the Malkovych family
The feature-length documentary debut by Eva Dzhyshyashvili, Plai. A Mountain Path [+see also:
interview: Eva Dzhyshyashvili
film profile], which immerses us in the life of the Malkovych family, was recently the victor of the DOCU/UKRAINE programme at the Docudays Film Festival, which unspooled as part of the Krakow Film Festival from 29 May-5 June (see the news). The Ukrainian director unpicks several aspects of her movie for us.
Cineuropa: How did you find your protagonists?
Eva Dzhyshyashvili: I got the idea for the film in 2014, when I realised how many people were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Ukraine’s independence and freedom. It really struck me, and I wanted to find out what environment these brave people live and work in, and how they live. During my research, a friend of mine introduced me to the Malkovych family. Dmytro Malkovich had been fighting for the country’s independence: whether with the Maidan struggle, with his activism in the community or by helping as a volunteer on the front line. I understood right away that they would be my protagonists. Their sincerity and the outward simplicity of their way of life won me over. I would call it a tenderness that manifests itself in the relationships between adults and children, in their love for work and land, and in the beautiful nature that surrounds them.
I wrote everything that Hannusya Malkovich told me down. Many things were still unknown to me, and I learned about them during the filming process. For example, even the promise that Hannusya made when she was sitting next to the wounded Dmytro: he was in a coma because he had been poisoned by gas during Maidan. He was unconscious for five days, and Hannusya came to Kyiv and sat next to him in the intensive care unit, praying.
How long did you spend observing their lives?
I started shooting when Vasilko, the youngest child, was very young; he was only a year old, so it was probably 2017. He couldn’t speak yet – he only said, “Du,” which is the abbreviated form of “grandfather”, and that was his favourite word. He always turned to his grandfather. And then what happened was that his mother, Mariyka, the daughter of Dmytro and Hannusya, went to work in Poland because there was no work in this village where they lived, and she was forced to earn money to feed and clothe the children. Because Dmytro lost a leg, they lost their farm. They had been making cheese in the meadow, and when he lost a limb, they couldn’t do it any more, because it was such a remote mountain meadow that it was difficult to reach. They had to sell their horses, the farm became much smaller, and they lost the opportunity to earn money. The children stayed with their grandparents – they were the ones who raised them. That meant that the basic things they learned from an early age were love for the land, for work, for each other and for Ukraine. And that's what I focused on – I wanted to tell this story through the children, because they are such wise kids. They said some very interesting things.
What is “Plai”?
There are two meanings of it in the film. Firstly, it is a trail in the mountains. Plai is the word used there, in the Carpathians. But for me, Plai is an allegory for their lives, too. It's such a steep uphill path, and they climb that mountain. Even Hannusya – she hauls this great burden, as every day, she climbs that mountain with cans and milk; then she goes back down, all on foot. They carry this burden of compassion, despair, strength and love – it’s a mixture of all this. Even now, Dmytro is in the war zone, helping the military.
Was Serhii Bukovskyi, who produced the film, your teacher, in a way?
In general, my beginnings in documentary film came thanks to Bukovskyi's film Tomorrow Is a Holy. This was a documentary of his – I don't remember what year it was released, but he made it a long time ago. And when I watched it, I was impressed by how the form and content were intertwined. I ended up in Bukovskyi's studio, and the film started with a workshop – that is, it was like my graduation work from the workshop. Bukovskyi was involved in the material from the very beginning, and he listened to me carefully. He watched the material; we all watched it together. Later on, he became a creative producer: he fell in love with my characters and believed in the project. Most importantly, he stopped me when it was time, because I had been shooting for ages, and it was hard to stop. It seemed to me that I could always get a little bit more. But he stopped me and said, “Eva, you already have everything you need; now start editing.”
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