Sean Penn, Imagine Dragons, and C215 — Films, music and books dedicated to Ukraine in 2023

The cover of the movie
The cover of the movie "Superpower”
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Ukraine continues to leave its mark on the cultural landscape, even during the war.

Summarizing 2023, NV put together a list of the most significant instances when famous foreigners expressed themselves about Ukraine through films, music videos, murals, books, etc.

Read also: Sean Penn gets emotional while praising Zelenskyy on late night US television to promote ‘Superpower’

1.   Documentary "Superpower”, directed by Sean Penn

The Berlin International Film Festival featured the premiere of the documentary “Superpower” by American actor and director Sean Penn, and producer Aaron Kaufman, in Feb. 2023. The film, which covers Ukraine and its military, was initially conceived in Oct. 2021 and coincidentally captured the full-scale Russian invasion in Kyiv. Since then, the film crew visited Ukraine seven times.

In the film, Penn explains how he found himself in Ukraine on the first day of the war and what he saw in Kyiv, his brief encounter with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and what he witnessed when he returned to Ukraine in the spring after Ukrainian forces liberated the oblasts of Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy.

Penn was deeply moved by the war in Ukraine. He began raising awareness about the war and became a powerful voice for Ukraine in the world. Penn collected aid for Ukrainians through his charitable foundation and decided to complete the filming of the documentary.

2.   ‘Crushed’ music video by Imagine Dragons

The popular American band Imagine Dragons drew attention to the war in Ukraine and the severe destruction the country faces due to Russian aggression.

In early May, the band released a music video for the song "Crushed," which was filmed in Novohryhorivka, a Ukrainian village in Mykolayiv Oblast, devastated by Russian shelling and occupied by Russian forces for over five months.

Read also: UK actor Mark Strong becomes ambassador for United24 to support school reconstruction

The band’s video director Ty Arnold met 14-year-old Sasha, who was clip’s main character, during a humanitarian trip. Sasha and his family had spent several months in a basement; their house and his school were destroyed by enemy shelling. The young boy dreams of returning to live in his native village.

“Sasha’s story is heartbreaking, and there are thousands like him who desperately need help,” the band says in the description of the music video. “Even today, his family remains without electricity and other basic supplies.”

The video was nominated for the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards in the category of Best Video with a social message (Video for Good). The renovation of Sasha’s house started in the summer of 2023.

3.   “Legacy of War Mix” — a collaboration between Massive Attack’s Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja and Ukrainian artist Slava Vakarchuk

March 3rd 2023 saw the release of a collaboration between Massive Attack’s Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja and Ukrainian artist Slava Vakarchuk, the frontman of Ukraine’s most popular rock band Okean Elzy.

“Legacy of War Mix” is the title given by Robert Del Naja to his version of the hit “Obijmy” [ Hug me] by Okean Elzy.

Read also: ‘Mavka: The Forest Song’, Ukraine's blockbuster animated film, set to premiere on Netflix

Vakarchuck has performed 179 impromptu shows for civilians and soldiers across Ukraine since the start of the invasion. The track, “Obiymy (Legacy of War Mix)”, was re-worked by Del Naja and Euan Dickinson in March 2022 and has now been released through Del Naja's Battle Box label.

All profits go to the Legacy of War Foundation; an international charity providing support to civilians affected by conflict, founded by Giles Duley - a photographer, writer, campaigner and UN Global Advocate. Duley shot all photography for the digital and vinyl release, which was then designed by Robert Del Naja. Legacy of War Foundation will be partnering with UNITED24, a global fundraising platform, (launched by president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in May 2022) to help restore destroyed homes in Kyiv Oblast, under the Rebuild Ukraine program.

4.   “Same Here” by Brad Paisley,  American country singer

Brad Paisley, a popular American country singer and three-time Grammy Award winner, released the song “Same Here,” highlighting the commonalities between Ukrainians, Americans, and other peoples. The song features his dialogue with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Paisley became an ambassador for Zelenskyy’s fundraising initiative United24 in the summer of 2022. The singer visited Ukraine in April 2023.

5.   From Where to Where” by Polish Director Maciej Hamela

The premiere of this documentary by Polish director Maciej Hamela took place at the Cannes Film Festival. This unique film is an extension of a volunteer initiative. At the start of the full-scale invasion, Hamela bought a minibus and headed to Ukraine, specifically to regions engulfed in war, where people needed help with evacuation. He transported Ukrainians from the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Donetsk Oblasts, evacuating 400 people in six months. At some point, Hamela decided to install a camera in the vehicle, recording the stories of people who were his passengers, which formed the basis of this film.

“Created with intimacy and delicate respect, we as the jury were astounded by the brilliant simplicity of this film, which makes us fellow travelers in a universal odyssey of survival and escape,” noted members of the International Jury of the Sheffield DocFest 2023, a British documentary film festival, explaining why they awarded Hamela's film the main prize.

The film made it to the official qualifying list for the Oscars in the category of Best Feature-Length Documentary Film. The film was created with the support of the Ukrainian production company 435 FILMS.

6.   Documentary ‘With Ukraine in Heart’ directed by Bernard-Henri Lévy

French philosopher, writer, and director Bernard-Henri Lévy presented his third documentary film dedicated to the war in Ukraine. The film's premiere took place on French TV in mid-November and is titled “With Ukraine in Heart” (L’Ukraine au cœur). A military diary-style movie, it covers events from June to September 2023. The film's setting is in the trenches of Kherson and Donetsk Oblasts. Viewers witness drone attacks, machine gun shooting, and shelling. The film introduces soldiers of the International Legion including Israelis, Britons, and French, fighting alongside Ukraine.

Lévy's first two documentaries, “Why Ukraine’ (Pourquoi l’Ukraine) and “Glory to Ukraine” (Slava Ukraini), also focused on the situation in Ukraine through 2022.

7.   Documentary “Girl Away From Home” by Danish Director Simon Lereng Wilmont

Simon Lereng Wilmont directed his third film about Ukrainian children, titled “Girl Away From Home.” Alisa Kovalenko, Ukrainian director, assisted Wilmont in the production.

The premiere took place at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).

The film's main character 13-year-old Anastasia from Kyiv, along with her grandmother, is fleeing the war. Anastasia is a successful artistic gymnast. As a result of the war, Anastasia and her grandmother had to build a new life in Germany.

This is the third documentary by Danish director Simon Lereng Wilmont about Ukrainian children, following “The Distant Barking of Dogs” and “A House Made of Splinters.” The latter received an Oscar nomination in 2022 in the Best Documentary Film category.

A frame from the film “Girl Away From Home” <span class="copyright"></span>
A frame from the film “Girl Away From Home”

8.   Mural dedicated to Ukrainian children at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris by French artist Christian Guémy

Street artist Christian Guémy, better known as C215, has been actively creating murals in support of Ukraine both in Ukraine and France since 2022. In 2022, he visited Ukraine for the first time and painted numerous artworks on the walls and remains of destroyed buildings in Kyiv, Bucha, Hostomel, and Borodyanka.

In late April of this year, Guémy created a portrait of Oleksandr Matsiyevsky, a soldier who was executed by the Russians for saying “Glory to Ukraine,” on an administrative building near the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv, in late April 2023.

A fresco dedicated to Ukrainian children, particularly those held captive by Russia, also appeared at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris recently.

<span class="copyright">@Олена Зеленська/Telegram</span>
@Олена Зеленська/Telegram

9.   “The Russo-Ukrainian War” by Serhii Plokhy

American historian and Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University, Serhii Plokhy, released his “The Russo-Ukrainian War” in the United States in February 2023, and in Ukraine in August 2023.

Plokhy analyzes the full-scale Russian invasion, the unification of the West in the context of the war, and Russia's move towards isolation.  Plokhy also attempts to answer the question of what the consequences of the war will be for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the world. The Telegraph included Plokhy's new book in its ranking of the 50 best publications released in 2023.

10. “Invasion” by Luke Harding

Luke Harding, British journalist, and foreign correspondent for The Guardian, presented a book about Russia's war against Ukraine. “Invasion” was published by Guardian Books in 2023.  It captures Harding's personal impressions from his trips to Ukraine following the full-scale invasion, including conversations with people, visits to hotspots, and trips to the combat zone. The author himself presented the Ukrainian release of the book at the Book Forum 2023 in Lviv in October.

Luke Harding is known as the author of “Mafia State” (2011), in which he detailed his experience living and working in Russia from 2007 to 2011 as The Guardian's special correspondent. Harding received an entry ban for his critical articles about Putin's political system, which he described as mafia-like.

<span class="copyright">@Amazon</span>

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine