Bella Peacock

Ukraine is not a Brothel

Australian filmmaker, Kitty Green, never expected to be the thread that unraveled Ukrainian female protest group, Femen. Yet fortuitous timing found her deep in the belly of an unforseen beast. Green's documentary UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL is screening at the upcoming Sydney Film Festival.

The tale of Kitty Green's debut documentary began when a small photograph featured in a Melbourne newspaper caught her eye. It was the image of three beautiful, young, bare-breasted women holding a placard stating "Ukraine is Not a Brothel." Inspired by the paradoxical protest she found "bizarre but beautiful," Green sought to follow up the organisation when she travelled to Ukraine to visit family. She tracked the girls down in a decrepit Kiev cafe, and arranged to shoot one of their protests. Compelled by her cinematic style and the beauty of the images she captured, Femen invited Green into the organisation. Soon the burgeoning filmmaker ended up living with six of the girls in an old two-bedroom Soviet apartment. Over the next eighteen months, Green formed close friendships with each of the girls, budding a delicate and empowering relationship that allowed the documentary to blossom.

"Press was coming in daily, and I didn't want to make the same thing that BBC would make when they came in for two days"

The key to making Ukraine is Not a Brothel was time. Time for the relationships to grow, time to see inside the real Femen, and time to tell the true story of these women. Green recalls that "press was coming in daily, and I didn't want to make the same thing that BBC would make when they came in for two days. I wanted a more intimate portrait of these woman and their lives, not just glossy tip television."

Kitty studied at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, going on to freelance for Australian production companies such as Matchbox Pictures, finally ending up at the ABC working on the program Artscape. After her experience in the industry, she described her leap into feature filmmaking as not so much daunting as highly ambitious.

When FilmInk asks about funding, Green bursts into a fit of laughter. "Budget! What budget?" The project was "self funded," and Green continues to chuckle as she clarifies that "by self funded, I mean that was no funding." To say that this film was made on a shoestring is an overstatement, although you'd never guess it from the beautiful cinematography. These wonderfully constructed sequences are made all the more impressive by the fact that "everything was pretty much brought from the supermarket - we just had to make it work." And it does work, especially with the masterful help of cinematographer Michael Letham. Letham went to university with Green, was based Holland at the time of the soot, but Green managed to fly him over to Ukraine on the cheap, where he stayed for three months sleeping on the the floor of the girls' apartment. Even on this cost-cutting regime Green recounts that "there was one point I said to Mark 'Okay we've run out of money... we're just going to eat rice and carrots for the next month.'"

Green's age and gender were blessing in disguise. Due to her lacking status as twenty-something woman in a patriarchal society, she managed to fly under the radar.

Despite the misfortune of money, Green capitalised in other ways. Surprisingly, her age and gender were blessing in disguise. Due to her lacking status as twenty-something woman in a patriarchal society, she managed to fly under the radar. No one thought her capable of exposing them, which allowed her immense access to the inside life of the organisation- and there lay her secret weapon.

Green was permitted to see the groups intricacies, and it is this departure from organisation to individuals that ultimately transforms the film, and the girls themselves. No, it is not the controversial country or edgy organisation that is truly the heart of her documentary. It is the complete and total unraveling of an organisation - of which Kitty Green was a catalyst. "I didn't for force them to do; I could sense that the girls were ready to move forward," she says. "By asking them questions that were difficult to answer or they didn't want to answer, they were forced to reevaluate their lives and take a step in the next direction."

The beauty and paradox of Ukraine is not a Brothel is that Femen is a microcosm of the patriarchal power structure it protests against. Although Green doesn't believe that Ukraine's prominence in world news at the moment is necessarily an advantage for her film, she is pleased that "at least people know what Ukraine is now and I think people are taking notice" and that's really what Femen want to do "raise awareness of the problems in their country."

Ukraine is not a Brothel is featured at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival


by Bella Peacock