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In Cannes, “In the Rearview” by the Polish filmmaker highlights Ukrainians fleeing the war

Warsaw, Poland — When Polish filmmaker Maciek Hamela began evacuating Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war against their country, he had no intention of making a film. He was one of many Poles to provide humanitarian aid to attacked neighbors and had turned down an offer to film a television investigation there.

But the thoughts of the people he was transporting to safety in his van were so poignant that he soon began filming them. He asked a friend who is a cinematographer to help film – and drive – and pointed his camera directly at his passengers as they drove through their war-scarred country.

The result is “In the Rearview”, a documentary film presented at the Cannes Film Festival in France as part of a parallel program dedicated to independent cinema. It’s not in competition.

A French-Polish co-production, it takes place almost entirely in Hamela’s van, the camera capturing the tormented passengers, one group after another in countless journeys made between March and November 2022.

The result is a composite portrait of men, women and children traversing a devastated landscape of bombed-out buildings and past checkpoints with dangerous detours caused by mines and collapsed bridges and roads.

The 84-minute film shows a little girl so traumatized that she has stopped talking. There is a Congolese woman who has been so badly injured that she has had 18 operations since Hamela evacuated her. A mother with two children passing by the Dnieper River; believing it to be the sea, the children ask their mother if she will take them there after the war.

“The way we set up the film was to see the reflection of war in those very small details of ordinary life and the life that we all have,” Hamela told The Associated Press in an interview with Warsaw before flying to Cannes.

There’s also a bit of humor, with a woman ironically commenting that she’s always wanted to travel. A woman runs off with her cat saying he needs a bathroom break.

In order not to exploit the people he was helping, Hamela told them that a camera was in a car before he picked them up. And they only signed forms allowing him to use the footage after they arrived safely at their destination so they never felt like it was a condition of his help.

“In the Rearview” also documents one of many Polish efforts to help Ukraine. When Russia launched its full invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there was a massive grassroots effort to help across Poland, with ordinary people taking leave to travel to the border with Poland. Ukraine to distribute food. Some picked up strangers and took them to shelters or even to their own homes.

Hamela began from day one to raise funds for the Ukrainian army. By the third day, he had bought a van to transport Ukrainians from the Polish border and convinced his father to open his beloved summer house to foreigners.

Soon, Hamela heard from a friend of people in eastern Ukraine who needed rescue, and he began going to the front lines of war to pick them up. Some emerged from basements where they had sheltered in terror.

When the war broke out, Hamela was working on a documentary about a crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus. A large number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa had tried to cross this border in 2021. Poland and other European Union countries saw this as an organized effort by Russia’s ally Belarus. , to destabilize Poland and other EU countries.

Poland responded by building a wall to stop the migrants, leading to the death of some in the region’s forests and bogs.

The war in Ukraine led Hamela to abandon this project, which was to focus on the indifference of some Polish border communities to the plight of migrants and refugees.

Having observed both crises closely, he sees a connection.

“That’s my personal view on this, but I really think it was meant to antagonize the Poles against all the refugees in preparation for war with Ukraine,” he said.

Hamela, now 40, also actively supported Ukrainians involved in the pro-democracy Maidan revolution in 2014, which led to Russia’s first incursions into Ukraine.

He says the world shown in his documentary could hardly be further from the glamorous world of Cannes, and he hopes it will remind people how high the stakes are in Ukraine.

“We are trying to use this cover to remind everyone that the war continues and lives must be saved. And Ukraine is not going to win without our help,” he said. “So that’s the ultimate task with this movie.”

ABC News

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