Oscars: 20 Days in Mariupol, a war film from Ukraine, is best documentary

The documentary film “20 Days in Mariupol,” shot within the besieged port city during the Russian assault, has clinched the best documentary Oscar at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Directed by Mstyslav Chernov, a Ukrainian journalist who documented the invasion in early 2022, the film gained widespread acclaim after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2023. Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw praised it as “a searing film [that] bears a terrible witness to this great crime” in a five-star review. Chernov, in an interview, described the film as “some kind of collective resistance to tragedy.”

Considered a strong contender, the film had already won best documentary awards from Bafta and the Directors Guild of America. It triumphed over other nominees, including the Ugandan political documentary “Bobi Wine: The People’s President” and the Alzheimer’s study “The Eternal Memory.”

Upon receiving the award, Chernov expressed that it was the first ever for a Ukrainian film. He conveyed mixed emotions, stating, “I am honored, but I will probably be the first director on this stage to say that I wish I had never made this film.” Chernov expressed a desire to exchange the honor for a scenario where Russia never attacked Ukraine, never invaded cities, and did not cause the loss of thousands of Ukrainian lives.

Chernov also highlighted the wish to exchange the honor for the release of hostages and civilians held in Russian jails. Acknowledging the inability to change the past, he emphasized the role of cinema in forming memories and shaping history. Chernov concluded by expressing gratitude to Ukraine.

In Ukraine, the film’s recognition was applauded for shedding light on the brutal devastation of the war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed gratitude to the team for creating the film, considering it important for the entire country. He emphasized the need for the world to see and remember the inhumane consequences of the Russian invasion. Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets, praised the documentary for revealing the truth to the world during the awards ceremony.

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