Published Jun 03, 2020It is the height of the Russian-Ukranian conflict in 2015, and in the small town of Krasnohorivka, the Trofymchuk family are huddled in their basement shelter. When matriarch Anna suddenly calls "cut" and her children break from their panicked state of cowering in fear to ask about their performances, we feel the fascinating play between fact and fiction ingrained into Iryna Tsylik's The Earth is Blue as an Orange. Following a family of dedicated film lovers, the Trofymchuk clan cope with the realities of their war experience by translating it into a film shot from the precarious state of their own home.
Tsylik's film doesn't aim for the same effect of the films of Joshua Oppenheimer, wherein the act of filming is an epiphanic moment for the participants; rather, the Trofymchuk family dabble into movie making more as a pastime to break up the monotony and uncertainty of living in times of conflict, leaving an intimate record of their experiences while at the same appealing to their shared cinephilia and drive to be creative in times of strife. Wisely, The Earth is Blue as an Orange spends just as much time documenting the day-to-day activities of this family as it does in their improvised film production, opting for an in-depth portrait of the family living under these conditions as much as the film they use to cope.
The best thread of the film lies between Anna and her eldest daughter Myroslava, who is attempting to follow in her family's love of cinema and attend film school. Tsylik's camera zeroes in on the anxiety and support surrounding Myroslava's journey to becoming a legitimate filmmaker in an utterly heartwarming sequence of events nestled perfectly into the overall film. When she returns home to start working on the family film again, the resulting scenes of lively creative differences between her and her mother are the most rousing scenes in the film, giving even more of a relatable edge to their extraordinary circumstances.
It seems odd to describe the events of this film as "quotidian," considering the context in which it is shot, but the Trofymchuk family hide their traumas behind their love of film very well. In one incredibly telling scene, their sporadic shooting schedule is temporarily stymied when they begin to hear the explosions of artillery shells in the distance, treating the instruments of war ringing out down the street like another filmmaker would treat an inconvenient plane flying overhead. It is all a matter of course for them, and the sheer coping power of the filmmaking process to help them to put it all into perspective is featured incredibly in The Earth is Blue as an Orange.
Hot Docs Film Festival has moved online for its 2020 edition. Buy tickets over at the festival's website. (Moonmakers/Albatros Communicos)