Simon Lereng Wilmont under inspelningen av «Olegs barndom» (Foto: Azad Safarov)

Mellan bomber och barndom

Bioaktuella «Olegs barndom», om en tioåring som lever med sin mormor i en ukrainsk by hemsökt av kriget, är en av årets mest hyllade dokumentärer. Här berättar regissören Simon Lereng Wilmont om förberedelserna, mötena och ångesten över att lämna de medverkande till sitt öde.

(Text på engelska.)



Preparations

It’s Tuesday in Copenhagen, a former Special Forces marine is teaching me the basics. «This is how to make a tourniquet for shrapnel wound. This is what to scout for or cover when you arrive at any new place. Oh, and remember to turn off the lights of the car, when you’re approaching a checkpoint at night, or nervous soldiers might start to shoot at the car.»

Meeting Oleg

My fixer and I are working our way down the southern part of the frontline, visiting schools we figure have students who come from villages that have been shelled, or are close to the shelling.

The last question I always ask every children is if he or she can tell me, what it felt like, when he or she was afraid? Most of the children have a hard time putting that feeling into words. That is, until I meet Oleg. He hesitates for maybe a heartbeat, reflecting, and then looks straight at me with those ice-blue eyes and says, «It’s like there is this cold hand reaching into my chest, grabbing my heart, and when the first shells start to explode, the hand squeezes, little by little, until my heart is a little, cold lump. That’s how I feel, when I’m afraid».

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Apples and war

It’s one of the first days of filming. I am trying to hide my slight disappointment while filming the kids playing war in and around the old apple tree in the backyard. It's a warm summer day; everything smells like country and the bees are lazily flying about doing their business. «I thought this was supposed to be a war zone», I remember arrogantly thinking just seconds before the beautiful bubble of normality is punctured by loud, heavy machine-gun fire from a hundred meters away. I throw myself to the dirt. When I look up, the kids are still playing. The fixer gives the thumbs up, grinning all over his face, and I begin to understand this new world I have come to.    

The rumours of small communities

Unknown to us, there is a rumour going around most of the small villages of the frontline, that there are people about posing as NGO’s, while in truth they are really there to harvest and steal organs from children to sell at the black organ market. 

So Alexandra was naturally very worried, when we turned up on her doorstep. It was not until the third trip or so, when someone sent her a snapshot of me and the fixer eating a sorry slob-like lunch in the old Soviet style school canteen, that she began to lower her guard a little. She casually tells us this a winter’s day over a bowl of hot steaming soup in her kitchen. She says that she simply couldn't believe that organ thieves would go through an ordeal like that, and laughs that warm and contagious laugh, which always makes me forget all bad things.

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Snakes and mortars

We’re running through the high grass much faster than the darkness allows for. The riverbank is on fire on both sides. We hear the whistle of shells over our heads, and when the explosions rip through the night, I can feel the tremors in the ground. The camera has made my arms feel like lead, and Kostya is yelling something to Oleg in the dark?

Later, despite the dryness of my throat I manage to ask my fixer, what Kostya shouted? Still a little out of breath he tells me from his resting place near the basement door, that Kostya was shouting for Oleg to run behind the me, so the snakes would bite me first. I also slide down, and admire this just sixteen-year-old kids cool.

Traumatised

One day, Oleg is afraid to go to sleep, and stays fully dressed in the corner near the chimney all night, until he finally falls asleep there in the early morning hours. The next day he acts with casual abandon and indifference in the evening. Even when the bombs are falling unpleasantly near to the village.

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Tea with honey

Alexandra is not feeling well, and Oleg is making her tea. As he bring her the steaming cup, and fluff her pillow, I try my very best not to tear up. As I stand in the shadows of the doorway, it hit me that this is without doubt the most beautiful, but also most tragic relationship that I have ever filmed. Their world is so fragile, and the future so uncertain.

Title

There are scores of military dogs that run loose in the village. They are half wild, and we try to stay clear of them. If we have to approach them, we do so with a lot of caution.

A soldier buying dried salted fish in the small shop tells me, that they keep the dogs around, because they hear mortars and shelling much sooner than humans.

For me the dog’s soon becomes a metaphor for the wild and destructive force of the war. Hearing dogs bark in the distance means, that war is coming, and will be here sometime soon.

Barbecue and war

On the last night of filming we were having a Ukrainian barbecue in Oleg and Alexandra’s garden. The food was as delicious as the night was warm, and we had been telling jokes and laughing in turns.

It is getting late, and I am exhausted. I wonder aloud where our driver is, because he should have been here by now to pick us up. My fixer explains to me that the driver was not allowed to pass the last checkpoint due to heavy shelling in area. I realize that both sides had been shelling each other for most of the evening and we had simply stopped noticing it. This scares me, and makes me even sadder to leave.

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The beauty of docs

In my opinion life often surpasses fiction. Time and time again, I see scenes and characters in documentaries that are so larger than life, that we would instantly reject them as unbelievably or contrived, if they were written as fiction. Yet here they are – undeniable, unpredictable and wonderful. I love this. There is no better feeling than when I catch one of those so elusive and fleeting and beautiful moments of raw life. It’s like a drug.

Av Simon Lereng Wilmont 23 nov. 2018