This film was viewed at the 49th Seattle International Film Festival
Synopsis: Mstyslav Chernov, a journalist for the Associated Press, travels to the city of Mariupol right before Russian invasion in 2022, where he and his team document 20 days of harrowing warfare.
Before I really get into anything I have to mention something. This documentary, 20 Days in Mariupol, was above and by far one of the hardest movies I've ever watched. Maybe I've had a sheltered life, I don't know, but what Mstyslav Chernov was able to document and then edit into a documentary like this is nothing short of tremendous work that has me thinking about it nonstop.
Chernov, hearing the shouts of warning of Russian provocation and subsequent invasion, traveled with his team to Mariupol Ukraine, a port city in the southeast portion of the country. Being a port city, and near the border of Russia, the city is a strategic point for both countries in this war. Therefore, Chernov traveled there knowing that Russia would be coming for it immediately in the war.
The footage that Chernov amassed in these 20 days in Mariupol is stunning. I don't mean that in any sort of positive way really, other than a kudos to his journalistic ability. Full of grief, terror, loss, and the horrid outcomes of war, Chernov was able to film many inhabitants of the city throughout these 20 days of absolute hell.
Having this amount of footage in chronological order is pretty difficult to edit in a meaningful and impactful way. Do you include all of it? What do you cut? Well, I think Chernov and crew did a superb job in breaking it up into "day" segments. These breaks of a timeline allow the viewer to be able to understand exactly how long certain events took place for, and how long in between a respite existed for. You'll be able to quantify for how long these emergency hospitals have been cut off from the rest of the world. Without water, painkillers, electricity and internet yet with a constant flow of civilian injuries to address. It truly, in my mind, is a masterclass in documentary editing. I was transfixed in horror and admiration for Chernov for the entire 95 minute runtime due to this phenomenal editing.
Of course it wasn't only the editing, but the score is something to behold. Scored akin to a horror film 20 Days in Mariupol is full of low thumping bass, dissonance, and a low persistent, pervasive presence of dread. It has ambient elements to it that stick with you, increase your heart rate and remind you that this is something that happened only a year ago and is actually still happening today. To avoid hyperbole I'll just say I really mean this, this was one of the best scores I've heard thus far this year. The movie does not work to the same degree without it. 20 Days in Mariupol is elevated to another level of storytelling and empathetic output due to it and I commend Jordan Dykstra on his work!
At its core, this was an incredibly difficult film to watch. I knew that this would be the case but I don't think anyone can truly be prepared for what's in it. I was nauseous, crying, and aghast at the things I was seeing. Especially knowing that this is real footage, from a real journalist, who damn well would've been killed had he and his team not fled Mariupol shortly before its final fall. I won't get into too much detail in this review for the sake of 1, not doing it justice and 2, making sure you go see it for yourself. Because much like last year's Best Documentary winner Navalny, you really have to see the atrocities that Putin and Russia are committing in order to really understand. Chernov's footage and narration humanizes everything that you've maybe seen in small segments on news channels in a new light, one that is up close and personal. While at times Chernov's cool and calm narrating is difficult to focus on, his ability to abstract information out of the footage and add in his own familial elements to the documentary amplifies the message of his work.
Now I don't want this to deter you from watching this film. This movie needs to be seen. Maybe it doesn't have a chance at the Oscars but in reality who gives a shit? While 20 Days in Mariupol was and is an extremely difficult watch, it's also probably the most important one you have this year. Incredibly well done, with unbelievable footage, and a top notch narrative by Chernov, this film is a complete documentary that packs one of the hardest punches you could imagine. Fantastic on all fronts and well done, kudos of the highest regard I can provide to Chernov and team.
I, for some serendipitous reason, had this beer laying around for the past year or so waiting for the right time to crack it open. What a better time than for 20 Days in Mariupol to enjoy a limited edition beer brewed to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Roman, by Fair Isle Brewing, is a golden saison, dry hopped and inspired by a recipe from the Pravda Brewery based in Ukraine.
The craziest part about this beer is that Fair Isle actually altered the chemistry, and ph balance of the water to mimic the water from Lviv Ukraine where the Pravda Brewery is located. What that results in is a great dry funky saison that boasts some tart grapefruit flavors with a sweetness from apricots and honey. As always Fair Isle knows how to handle their saisons and this one is even better thanks to its goal of aiding the people of Ukraine! While this was a limited release and I think no longer available, I hope more breweries reignite the flame of Pravda inspired brews after the widespread release of 20 Days in Mariupol, allowing people to help in any way they can.