Denmark, Finland, Sweden 2018

Synopsis

THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS is set in Eastern Ukraine on the frontline of the war.
The film follows the life of 10-year-old Ukrainian boy Oleg throughout a year, witnessing the gradual erosion of his innocence beneath the pressures of war.
Oleg lives with his beloved grandmother, Alexandra, in the small village of Hnutove. Having no other place to go, Oleg and Alexandra stay and watch as others leave the village. Life becomes increasingly difficult with each passing day, and the war offers no end in sight. In this now half-deserted village where Oleg and Alexandra are the only true
constants in each other’s lives, the film shows just how fragile, but crucial, close relationships are for survival.
Through Oleg’s perspective, the film examines what it means to grow up in a warzone. It portrays how a child’s universal struggle to discover what the world is about grows interlaced with all the dangers and challenges the war presents.
THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS unveils the consequences of war bearing down on children in Eastern Ukraine, and by natural extension, the scars and self- taught life lessons this generation will carry with them into the future.

Directors Statement

In my two previous films, I followed children who lived in very safe worlds. Their lives get knocked out of balance temporarily, and we follow them in their individual struggle to get back on their feet again, growing wiser from the experience. That made me think about what it would be like if the situation was completely turned upside down: how does a child find safety and security in a chaotic world?

In THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS, I follow 10-year-old Oleg, who lives with his grandma in a warzone in the eastern part of Ukraine, less than a mile from the frontline. I spent time in the area researching, and I remember the first time I met him. He immediately stood out. I asked if he could describe how it felt to be scared. He looked at me and without hesitation said, 'If you can imagine a hand reaching in and grabbing your heart. When the first explosions sound, after the cannons have fired, the hand starts squeezing your heart. Then it gets all cold, too.'" It was then I knew I had found my main character.

Shortly after, I met his grandmother, Alexandra, an amazing, loving and strong woman. It was obvious to see how close and special the bond between the two of them was. Their house still showed signs of shelling and desperately needed repairs, but it was filled with warmth and laughter. Most of the village had been forcibly displaced, often including close friends and relatives, leaving behind a vacuum of activity where time did not exist. But there was always a warm meal ready and a good story waiting to be shared in their house. Life was calm and beautiful, as it should be. For a second, you almost forgot about the war. Staying there long enough, though, I soon realized that this bubble of safety was just an illusion. A brittle illusion that could shatter violently and often unexpectedly, to reveal the very real and dangerous world that Oleg and Alexandra really live in.

The film is about how people deal with the cracks in that illusion and about the human drive we have to survive no matter what. How, even amidst the most impossible circumstances, we build illusionary worlds for ourselves in which we can find comfort and warmth, because we can't exist for long in chaos. Even if the illusion is demolished over and over again, we still keep building it back up again. I find that kind of tenacity is incredibly beautiful.

I am also reminded of the importance of the people who surround us by the mutual dependency that Oleg and his grandmother have developed. They share a love for each other. Without one, the other would collapse. They live in two different worlds. His world is immediate: he reacts to what happens and quickly suppresses the bad things. She, on the other hand, knows that the things yet to come can have terrible consequences for them. In the film, Alexandra keeps the big, bad world away from Oleg as long as she can. That's what makes it possible for him to be a child long enough to give her the joy and hope that she needs to survive and keep up the illusion.

Director's Biography

Simon graduated as a documentary film director from The National Danish Film School in 2009. His film DORMITORY MASTER (2009) won a Gold Panda Award at Sichuan International TV & Film Festival and ABOVE GROUND, BENEATH THE SKY (2008) won Best Short Film at Vision Du Reel and Best International Documentary at Vienna Film Academy International Film Festival. His previous films THE FENCING CHAMPION (2014) and CHIKARA – THE SUMO WRESTLER'S SON (2013) both premiered at IDFA, won the Jury Award for medium-length documentary and Best Short Children Documentary Award at Al Jazeera Film Festival 2015, and they have since been screened at a number of international film festivals and sold to TV stations around the world.

Filmography:
2014 - The Fencing Champion
2013 - Chikara – The Sumo Wrestler’s Son
2012 - Travelling with Mr. T (co-directed with Andreas M. Dalsgaard)
2009 - Dormitory Master
2004 - Ramona's Journey
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Cast & Crew

Directed by : Simon Lereng Wilmont

Written by : Simon Lereng Wilmont

Produced by : Monica Hellström, Tobias Janson, Sami Jahnukainen

Director of Photography : Simon Lereng Wilmont

Editor : Michael Aaglund

Composer : Uno Helmersson, Erik Enocksson

Sound Design : Pietu Korhonen, Heikki Kossi, Peter Albrechtsen

Nominations and Awards

  • European Documentary 2018
  • EFA Documentary Selection 2018