Using personal and professional perspectives, Filmmaker Alexander Mihalkovich and Filmmaker/Journalist Hanna Badziaka underscore the causes and consequences of the decades-old “tradition” of violent bullying, torture and murder as a means of control over Belarusian military conscripts.
When young Nikita reports for compulsory military duty in 2020, he enters a generationsold tradition that hides a deadly secret in post-Soviet Belarus: dedovshchina, the practice of violent abuse and bullying that supposedly turns boys into men but which has instead created generational trauma deeply embedded in the country’s present-day culture and identity.
Svetlana lives with this traumatic reality every day– her son was found hanged on base two years earlier as a result of dedovshchina, and a veil of secrecy continues to conceal his murderers. In this country where sons are disposable, and the instruments of control are out of hand, mothers emerge as inexhaustible fighters confronting the status quo.
Nikita and Svetlana’s stories also frame a rage in the streets against the state-led violence, rooted in dedovshchina, that has become the very mechanism of fear the government uses to control its populace.
Badziaka and Mihalkovich capture a snapshot of a troubled, modern-day Belarus through the real-life experiences of mothers and new conscripts, overlaid with the raw voices of those who have gone before them, taken from their private letters home.
* The phenomenon of “dedovshchina” (a variety of subordinating or humiliating compulsory activities undertaken by new recruits, leaving them with serious psychopathology for their lifetime) has roots in the traditions of the Soviet Army, implemented by recruited ex-convicts who brought criminal rules to bear in the military system.
SCREENINGS & AWARDS
World Premiere: CPH:DOX DOX:Award Competition 2023
2023 FIFDH (Swiss Premiere)
2023 One World Prague (Czech Premiere)
2023 goEast Film Festival (German Premiere)
2023 DokFest Munich
2023 Subversive Film Festival (Croatian Premiere)
2023 Seattle Film Festival (North American Premiere)
2023 Doc-Cevennes (French Premiere)
2023 DocsBarcelona (Spanish Premiere)
2023 Krakow Film Festival (Polish Premiere)
2023 Underhill Festival
2023 Sarajevo Film Festival
2023 Odesa IFF (Ukrainian Premiere)
2023 DMZ Docs
2023 Sofia Documental (Bulgarian Premiere)
2023 Festiwal Filmowy NNW Gdynia
2023 Nordisk Panorama
2023 Reykjavik IFF (Icelandic Premiere)
2023 Cineast Film Festival
2023 Bergen IFF (Norwegian Premiere)
2023 Doclisboa (Portuguese Premiere)
2023 Denver Film Festival
2023 IDFA (Dutch Premiere)
2023 Festival House of Tolerance, Ljubljana
2023 Northern Lights Nordic Film Festival
2023 RIDM (Canadian Premiere)
2023 Verzio FF (Hungarian Premiere)
2023 Tbilisi International Film Festival in Georgia
2023 Watch Docs Film Festival
2023 Documentary festival 1084.On The Border
2024 Trieste Film Festival (Italian Premiere)
2024 Forum des Images, Festival “A State of World”
2024 DocPoint Helsinki
And more: Bertha DocHouse
Upcoming: IDFF Artdocfest/Riga (Mar 1-8), HUMAN IDFF (Mar 4-10)
- Main Award in DOX:AWARD Competition at CPH:DOX 2023
“This was such a cinematic and meaningful film that took its time unfolding the complexity of living within an oppressive and unjust system. It poses questions about the idea of an individual choice within a cornered society. The title of the film is a way to give back the power to the women who are at the forefront of this fight. The award goes to ‘Motherland’ by Hanna Badziaka and Alexander Mihalkovich.”
- FIPRESCI International Film Critic’s Award for Best Documentary at goEast Film Festival 2023
- Audience Award at Krakow Film Festival 2023
- Main Award in International Documentary Section at the Festiwal Filmowy NNW in Gdynia 2023
Nominated for European Film Awards 2023
- Shortlisted for IDA Documentary Awards 2023
- Grand Prix at Northern Lights Northern Lights Nordic Film Festival 2023
The film, crafted by a talented duo, delves profoundly into the distressing reality of violence as a method of control within the Belarusian military. The narrative unfolds with a delicate touch, employing tender cinematography to expose the dark “tradition” of bullying, torture, and murder that has haunted conscripts for decades. Beyond peering into the concealed life of the army, Motherland offers a poignant exploration of an entire society governed by the unspoken law of state-sanctioned violence. Mihalkovich and Badziaka skillfully paint an unyielding portrait of a militaristic, heavily patriarchal society entrenched in violence and propaganda. While the narrative may not appear to offer hope for the future, the mere existence of this talentedly crafted film, viewed by audiences worldwide, instills hope that the vicious cycle of trauma and state-sanctioned violence will eventually be shattered by the emergence of a new generation of liberated Belarusians.Jury Statement, Grand Prix at Northern Lights Northern Lights Nordic Film Festival 2023
- Special Mention in the Main Competition at Watch Docs Film Festival 2023
- Special Mention at Trieste Film Festival 2024
“A special mention goes to a film that is dark and intense, but at the same time insightful and moving. Initially very circumscribed in history and setting, the film is able to reveal certain aspects of society that play a significant role in the current geopolitical situation. Thanks to meticulous research, precise camera work and rich sound design, it leaves the public astonished, perhaps even shocked, but certainly more aware.”Jury Statement, Special Mention at Trieste Film Festival 2024
- Dove for the Most Valuable Documentary of the Year at Cinema for Peace Foundation Gala 2024
Reviews: Kino-Zeit, filmdienst.de, Links Bewegt, EPD-Film, Frankfurter Allgemeine, RBB Kultur, Kino.de, Business Doc Europe, Dokumentarni, Little White Lies, Eye For Film, Filmuforia, Hindustan Times, Cineuropa, En Primera Fila, Variety, Unseen Films, Modern Times Review, La Estatuilla, Screen Daily, Le Polyester, Business Doc Europe
“…Co-directors Badziaka and Mihalkovich have crafted a touching but highly distressing film. …” “…Blessed with strikingly intimate and often visceral footage it is a tough but vital watch…”Mark Adams, Business Doc Europe
“…It’s tense, essential filmmaking which, with its stormy colour palette and wintry gloom, gives a mounting sense of oppressive tension…” “This is a textured, layered documentary that builds into a multi-faceted portrait of a country…”Wendy Ide, Screen Daily
DIRECTOR’S BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY
Alexander Mihalkovich is Belarusian-Ukrainian director and producer. He graduated with a PhD in Library Science and an MA in Film Directing at DocNomads international study program. His focus as a filmmaker is on long-term projects towards which he feels a close personal relationship. He produces documentaries with an experimental and creative background, beautiful cinematography, and a clear director’s vision.
After creating several short documentary and experimental films, he made his debut feature film My Granny from Mars. It had a successful theatrical release in Ukraine and has been selected at numerous international film festival including DOK.fest München 2019, Beldocs Belgrade 2019, Sarajevo IFF DocuTalents Award 2018, Jihlava IDFF 2018, Eastern Neighbours Film Festeival 2019 (as the opening night film), among many others.
My Granny From Mars (2018) 73′
Leave Permission (2017) 15′
White sheet of paper (2016) 11′
Two (2015) 11′
Klapotski (2009) 17′
Hanna Badziaka is a filmmaker with a background in journalism. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Philology from the Belarusian State University in 2010. She began her career as a video journalist for independent online media and later worked for the only
independent TV channel in Belarus. As a journalist, she focused on social issues and everyday life topics. After gaining extensive experience in creating in-depth video reports, she became interested in documentary filmmaking. She then participated in creating several documentaries and worked as a director and scriptwriter for TV projects focused on short documentaries. Motherland, which she co-directs, is her feature documentary debut.
Direction, screenplay Alexander Mihalkovich, Hanna Badziaka
Camera Siarhiej Kanaplianik
Sound Yngve Sætre, Thomas Angell Endresen
Editing Katiia Vushnya; additional editors: Jakub Bastkowski, Jerzy Poniatowski
Composer Yngve Sætre, Thomas Angell Endresen
Producers Mario Adamson, Ashley J. Smith, Alexander Mihalkovich, Anita Norfolk
Production company Sisyfos Film Production
Co-production Voka Films, Folk Film
WITH THE SUPPORT OF
Mediefondet Zefyr, The Fritt Ord Foundation, Bergesenstiftelsen, IDFA Bertha Fund, Renovabis Research Grant, Viewfinder Masters Program, IMS, Baltic to Black Sea Documentary Network (B2B Doc), Docs Up Fund, Fund for Belarus Democracy – German Marshall Fund, Prague Civil Society Centre
PRODUCER’S BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY
Mario is the founder and co-artistic director of Sisyfos Film Production. He has produced and co-produced internationally acclaimed films such as the multiple award-winning documentaries Scheme Birds, Merry Christmas, Yiwu, The Scars of Ali Boulala, and How to Save a Dead Friend. Mario is an alumnus of the EURODOC and Jihlava Emerging Producer program, as well as the Sundance Institute Fund. He is originally a sound designer/composer with a career spanning four decades in the film industry.
Ashley J. Smith
Originally from the United States, Ashley is co-artistic director of Sisyfos Film Production in Stockholm, Sweden. Together with Mario Adamson, she produced The Scars of Ali Boulala (World Premiere Tribeca 2021, Tempo Documentary Award 2022, Swedish Academy Award nomination 2022). She is currently producing documentary and fiction projects, including Flying (dir. Teresa Kristoffersson), Between Worlds (dir. Zara Arrehed), Depot-Vente (dir. Cherine Karam), Elevated (dir. Gustav Littorin), and Galax-Ma (dir. Dijle Yigitbas). Recently, she also produced three music videos for Fever Ray.
Alexander Mihalkovich is the founder of Voka Films, a Belarusian-Ukrainian production company. He holds a PhD in Library Science and an MA in Film Directing from the DocNomads international study program. Alexander’s documentary films are known for their experimental and creative approach, as well as beautiful cinematography and a clear directorial vision. He has produced several short documentaries and experimental films, including the feature film My Granny from Mars (2018), which tells the story of an old granny in the context of the annexation of Crimea. Alexander has recently completed the long-term project Motherland, which premiers in 2023 and explores the system of violence in authoritarian societies. He is currently working on a new project called Transparency Booth, set to release in 2025.
Anita is the founder of Folk Film, an independent production company in Bergen, Norway. Folk Film most recently co-produced the feature documentaries How to Save a Dead Friend (L’ACID Cannes, winner DOC:NYC, nominated for the European Film Awards), and The Scars of Ali Boulala (premiere 2021 Tribeca Film Festival). Prior to Folk Film Anita worked for over a decade in the UK – first for video games developer Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption), before moving into producing documentaries and animation for the award-winning studio Mosaic Films (London). Anita has an MA in Film Studies from the University of Edinburgh and an MA in Documentary Directing from Edinburgh College of Art, and is a participant of Berlinale Talents (2020) and Eurodoc (2023).
Sisyfos Film Production
Sisyfos Film Production look for stories that help us understand the world around us, evoke empathy, and inspire change. Their team of collaborators from around the globe allow them to work across borders and reach international audiences. Whether fiction or nonfiction, feature or short, making films that tell unique and emotional stories while connecting to universal human values –stories that speak to the heart.
Based in Stockholm, Sweden and Edinburgh, Scotland, Sisyfos is behind the internationally acclaimed films such as Scheme Birds (Best Documentary Feature, Tribeca Film Festival, 2019), Merry Christmas, Yiwu (Winner of the Heart of Sarajevo, 2020), The Scars of Ali Boulala (Tempo Documentary Award, 2022), How to Save a Dead Friend (ACID Cannes 2022) and Butterfly Vision (Cannes Un Certain Regard 2022).
Sisyfos Film Production