As I arrive to watch 20 Days in Mariupol the theatre has its regular buzz to it. People chatting waiting for the whole thing to start. As the film starts a hush waves over the crowd. The serious subject matter is immediately brought up to the screen with the sounds of gunfire and a shaky camera focuses in on a Russian tank.
The narrator explains that he and his companions have been trapped in the hospital that is now under siege and my heart starts to beat a little faster. Before we can find out what happens with the tank, we go back in time to before the Russians invade Ukraine. The invasion seems imminent, and we see the crew moving about Mariupol in a frenzy trying to figure out what to do – flee or stay put?
The documentary is filmed from the narrator’s point of view and there are times you feel as though you can hear his thoughts. Fear. Astonishment. Hopelessness. Are these the director’s feelings or are they mine? A sign, perhaps, of a truly astonishing documentary.
It should be no surprise that 20 Days in Mariupol is incredibly moving. The true horrors of war are splayed across the screen for everyone to see. Each scene is a new horror and with each horror comes more tears. A word to the wise, if you plan on seeing this film, bring plenty of Kleenex.
By the time the movie ends, everyone is in stunned silence. Though this film may not be fun to watch, it might just be essential to watch.
20 Days in Mariupol is directed by Mstyslav Chernov and will be playing again at the Isabel Bader Theater on May 4th at 5.30 pm.