Living the Dream: A Ukrainian Adventure
This past summer, with less than three weeks’ notice, I traveled to Ukraine as a participant in the Dream City International Film Festival in Rivne. An honour and a gift beyond imagination was having Heritage Quarters, a film that I had co- created with Jill Thomson and Owen Brierley, selected for screening.
Rivne was literally a “dream city,” as my dream of visiting Ukraine became a reality because of it. Heritage Quarters, the film, is about the creation of Edmonton as a city, a downtown constructed by immigrants, its downward turn and neglect, and its now hopeful resurgence.
The experience of being in the land of my forefathers, meeting relatives for the first time ever, and their acceptance of me, their warmth, their hospitality, defies verbal description. It is with the language of the heart that we communicated.
After a series of airline and train scheduling mishaps, I eventually crossed into Ukraine by bus. This allowed me to view the countryside through a lens which we would have been missed entirely by plane. And traversing the rural landscape by exquisite morning light, passing the village of Rava Ruska, giant fields of sunflowers, horses and cows grazing roadside without any form of fencing is something I’d never experienced in North America. The resulting impression is that if the cattle, goats and equine populations are free to roam, and yet stay in their locale, this must be a beautiful and happy place.
Lviv is a beautiful jewel box of a city with architecture reminiscent of Vienna, and coffee and pastry that matches it. Rivne was delightful in so many ways. The people were wonderful.The festival was a dream: a grassroots endeavor, with so much spirit and enthusiasm.The opening and closing events combined live performances with screenings, and the display of local talent, excellent, and the films selected were varied. It was especially interesting to see the films coming out of Ukraine, notably the documentaries, stories centered around the past two years, the impact of Euromaidan (civil unrest and demonstrations), their current situation, indomitable spirit and love of their country. I ended my trip in Kiev, absorbing its magnitude, the scale of its structures, cobblestoned roads and cultural monuments.
In Ukraine, the people and their talent and creativity are striking. Artistry is present in every facet of life, the food, the crafts, the embroidery, the music–making, are all a part of the collective soul. Suddenly my childhood experience, growing up in Alberta, and as an adult, my attraction to the Boyle Street and McCauley area where my grandparents lived as immigrants to Canada, all make sense to me. The cultural richness that I experienced through folk music, dance, crafts, food, holiday traditions, my grandparents’ fruit trees, vegetable gardens, raspberry bushes, and sunflowers live in me. After years of residing in New York City, and before that England, the gravitational pull to our neighbourhood is made clear. The entire experience of Ukraine was like turning on a light switch in a darkened room. The understanding that my people left their homeland, because they sought opportunity, freedom, and a better life is obvious: oppression still exists in Ukraine. But the evidence all over central Alberta is that they tried to recreate here what was beautiful and most integral to their way of life. I think they succeeded, and I am aware now of just how many of the elements that I’ve described influence my creative work.