“Show the whole world what happened there” – Oleksandr Shchur, the producer and screenwriter of the film “Bucha.”
In an exclusive interview with the Kyiv Post, producer and scriptwriter of “Bucha,” Oleksandr Shchur, talks about the plot, actors, filming, and reaction to the recently presented trailer of the film.
[Klitina] Please tell us about your project. “Bucha” is probably a dramatic plot. How well will the script correspond to the actual events in Bucha?
[Shchur] In April, knowing what happened in Bucha, Irpen, Vorzel, and all other cities of Ukraine under Russian occupation, it became clear to me that the whole world should learn about this tragedy. It is precisely the goal we set for ourselves – to show the world what happened there. Most people heard something from the news, but they did not see the horrors that occurred. It is essential that citizens of different countries, seeing what the Russian world is, influence their politicians for continuous military and economic assistance to Ukraine. It is crucial.
The Ukrainian army liberated Izyum and Balakleya in Kharkiv region and other cities: The same horrors are there. We understand that a similar thing is happening in other Ukrainian cities so it is necessary to free all territories occupied by Russia, and this will take time so we will need support, including media.
If we talk about the film itself, it is based on actual events. All the Ukrainian heroes are real people. All these events took place, and we are trying to preserve the chronology as much as possible. The only exception we made was the Russians. We did not mention specific names. It is a generalized image of the evil that was there.
[Klitina] There is also a specific moral aspect here. Are these victims who survived the tragedy, or did you coordinate the script with real people?
[Shchur] We understand that we can’t just show horrors. That’s why the story is about a real person, Konstantin Gudauskas. He is a Latvian Jew who lived in Kazakhstan and was a political activist. Due to his activity, the authorities persecuted him in his homeland, and he left Kazakhstan and received political asylum in Ukraine. Thanks to his Kazakh passport, Konstantin could travel to the occupied territories and take out Ukrainians from there.
The Russians let him pass because, in their opinion, Kazakhstan is a friendly state. The main character saved Ukrainians, took people out, and saw all the horrors of the occupation – robberies and murders. He told his story to me, so I got his consent to do the screenplay. I also met with other people he saved, such as Ihor Poklad, a famous composer, the author of the melody “The Power of a Bird,” and different famous compositions. Ihor was rescued from Vorzel and gave permission for the film adaptation.
Even the relatives of the killed, all those who survived the occupation, believe that this film is necessary and want the world to see it.
[Klitina] If this is an international project, do you plan to involve international actors?
[Shchur] First of all, we want to attract Ukrainian actors and support Ukrainian cinema, but a foreign actor is being considered for the leading role. Firstly, because it is a challenging role, and secondly, the main character is a foreigner. We may look for a robust European actor, but it will all be at the castings, which we plan to start in October. They will last two or three months.
[Klitina] If you could choose from any cast, which actor would you choose for the main role?
[Shchur] Unfortunately, there is no such possibility. Still, many cool dramatic actors could bring it to life, – for example, Javier Bardem. There is such a famous actor who plays dramatic roles very well, he is impassive like our main character, he does not show emotions clearly, but it is hard to show, you have to be able to do it.
[Klitina] The plot you talked about is reminiscent of a famous movie, “Schindler’s List.” Are you planning any dramatic scenes? The fragment where the girl in red, for example, from that movie, will remain in my heart for the rest of my life. How dramatic will the film be?
[Shchur] Yes, it will be a drama. We will not show all the horror that happened, but we will show some murders – even a scene in the trailer where a Ukrainian man is shot.
Many people asked why we showed it in the frame instead of leaving it behind the frame, as is often done. We have an answer – firstly, this event occurred on March 4 , 2022, in Bucha on the square. The Russians gathered people there, put five Ukrainian men on their knees, and shot one in public. The Russian military man did this in front of women and children, He wanted them to see it to show his power and strength. We want the audience to feel the same way people felt in this square. That’s the moment we left, and in many other scenes, the violence remains off-screen because we don’t want to traumatize the audience with many violent scenes.
For example, in the film you cited, “Schindler’s List,” there are many violent scenes and murders, but a lot remains behind the scenes: This is the work of the director. We will decide how to do this better so we do not cross the line where there will be disgust.
[Klitina] Please tell us about the villains. Who will play the Russians? How will it be shown?
[Shchur] When we were looking for an actor for the role of the Russians, some Ukrainian actors refused to play because they could not psychologically play such an abomination, and I understand them.
The role of a heathen is always more creative and exciting. It is more difficult to play, but creative people like challenges and the performer of the role of the main antagonist, Vyacheslav Dovzhenko, is a very talented actor. He played a cyborg, a Ukrainian military man. Now he agreed to such an essentially opposite role. Vyacheslav doesn’t just want to play a negative character but to show his downfall and add to the story.
When we wrote this hero into the script, we didn’t want the Russians to look like caricatured villains. They have some sick but imperial logic. They really believe that Ukraine does not exist, that we are all brainwashed here.
I studied their logic, Russian telegram channels, Girkin (Russian imperialist), and other propagandists to understand their motivation. The words in the trailer for the film were said by that Russian on the square. They are in the criminal case files. A terrible and, at the same time, funny fact: On YouTube, Russians started commenting on the trailer of the film that everything he says is correct, well done, and if everyone were as strong as him, then we would not have lost. On the one hand, it’s terrible that they think so. On the other hand, it proves that we correctly caught their thoughts.
[Klitina] How did it happen that you took up such a project? Do you have more experience in the comedy genre?
[Shchur] Yes, I worked for 14 years on the “95th Quarter “(comedy show), filmed a TV show the comedy “I, You, He, She,” and also worked on TV series with dramas and comedies. There were many examples when comedic screenwriters became dramatic. For instance, Craig Maisey, the screenwriter of the film “Very Scary Movie,” which is such a brutal comedy, wrote the script and became a producer of the series “Chernobyl,” which everyone is excited about. It is an excellent drama.
It is possible to undertake such a thing when there is experience and an attitude inside. I am very empathetic. I feel deep sorrow for all the victims and let it pass through me. Working on such a project is like a cure for inner pain.
[Klitina] Did you live somewhere nearby?
[Shchur] I lived in Vyshgorod in Kyiv region with my wife. She was eight months pregnant when Russian helicopters flew over our house headed for Hostomel (airport near Kyiv), then Russian planes. When we left, a Russian tank broke through to Obolon in Kyiv. I saw all this with my own eyes. Then I volunteered, came to the front, and observed what was happening.
I studied the tragedy in Bucha and Irpen, went there, talked with the main character and the people he saved, and was where people died. At that time, it was still not cleaned. There was a car in which the bodies of Ukrainians who tried to escape were shot. I was personally very touched by this. I am not an outside observer.
[Klitina] Are you planning to film in Bucha?
[Shchur] There was concern about and even complaints that we would film and scare people. I want to dispel these myths. Firstly, when it comes to filming, it does not mean action scenes. We have a drama, not an action movie like “Saving Private Ryan.” In the script, no tank will drive around Bucha and shoot, and there is no tank at all. This is a drama.
For example, Ihor Poklad, a composer, allowed the headquarters of the Russians to be filmed in his house. We will film as correctly as possible. We filmed the scene from the trailer in the morning. The square was fenced off, and even the shot that everyone sees in the frame there was no sound or fire. We added all this later to not scare people.
We will shoot some scenes that will not cause trauma in Bucha. For others, we will go to other places, for example, near Vinnytsia, Chernivtsi, or Lviv, and film there.
[Klitina] This project is politically essential for our country. I would feel a great responsibility, if I were you, and I see that there is some pressure and criticism from society. How was the premiere of the trailer, and how did people react? Did the victims, about whom this film tells, like your work?
[Shchur] Yes, you are right. There are some concerns about this movie. For example, at the premiere, we had two hundred guests – journalists, actors, and producers, but about 80 people from Bucha, Vorzel, and Irpen, experienced it, and they all liked it. They believe it is correct and that such a film should be told about the horror there.
I understand that there will always be those who do not like it. Now many Ukrainians are under stress. Some believe that nothing should be filmed at all or should film only documentaries, or they think that it should be filmed only after five years. We have a democratic country, and everyone can express their opinion.
By the way, I consider this a personal achievement. The Russian propagandist Skabeeva wrote about the trailer on her Telegram channel, saying that it is a terrible film and all this is a lie, that it cannot be shown, that our project is financed by the Kyiv regime and, for some reason Arnold Schwarzenegger.
[Klitina] In general, it is a good advertisement.
[Shchur] If Skabeeva did not like the project, we are doing a good job.
[Klitina] This film is significant, and it is essential to film it. Does the state help with this project, and how is it financed?
[Shchur] The project is financed by private investors. For example, we attracted American investors to film the trailer, and I partly invested my funds. Now we are looking for the rest of the financing. Our goal is to attract investments or grant money precisely in the West. We do not want to take state funds or funds of Ukrainian citizens for this project because those resources are now primarily needed to finance the army or those who have suffered.
It is crucial to convey information about our project to the Western audience, producers, and investors. It can be a profitable investment. When we have a product that will be shown at film festivals and released on the film market, the investor will be able to benefit.
In October, we are planning a tour of Europe to present this project and attract investments. It will not be possible to make a quality product and draw the necessary equipment and team with insufficient funding. Even if some people are willing to work for free, the film business needs to work.
[Klitina] Such a plot will attract operators and services like Netflix. What do you think?
[Shchur] Of course, this is our dream, but such services usually join when there is a finished product, and some influential, authoritative Western producer or film critic will recommend it. Netflix series are produced by their team or these series, or films, become hits in their countries after they were bought. For example, “Servant of the People” or the Korean “Squid Game” series first became a hit in South Korea, and then Netflix bought it.
There is another way. If we get a great product, and we will do everything for it, the film will be shown at film festivals, and if it wins awards, there will be a high probability that international platforms and services will be interested in showing it.