Ukrainian filmmaker Roman Bondarchuk won the Special Jury Prize for Feature Length Documentary at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam – IDFA for short, with his film ‘Ukrainian Sheriffs’ (2015). This Ukrainian / Latvian / German co-production was realized with support from the IDFA Bertha Fund and was a project of the IDFAcademy Summer School in 2014. The jury was wrapped up in this tragicomic portrait of a striking sheriff duo in a southern Ukrainian hamlet. Everyday routine is brutally disrupted by the political developments in the country and the associated threat of war. It is Bondarchuk’s directorial debut and he immediately impresses with his colorful sketch of the worries in the rural village of Stara Zboerivka.
Sheriffs Viktor and Volodja have a lot to do in this approximately 1,800-soul hamlet, which is located near the Crimea. Their main problems are neighbor quarrels, drunkenness, assault and car trouble, but they are also called in to solve the missing ducks. The fact is that the enormous unemployment, poverty and illiteracy are causing the necessary unrest. Viktor and Volodja drive their yellow Lada from incident to incident: from a raging neighbor and the discovery of a corpse to fiddling with the folding out of a baby carriage and the reintegration of the explorer Vova, who eats other people’s dogs, but just like everyone else to a normal existence. The months pass by, until political developments reach the village via television and a separatist drives a wedge between the inhabitants.
Although the inhabitants of Stara Zboerivka – where time seems to have stood still for decades – are in fact a long way from the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, ‘Ukrainian Sheriffs’ shows well how these people too are drawn into the war, whether they want to or not. It is not the main part of the film, but the background against which the events take place and lurks as a constant threat. The great asset of this documentary is that Bondarchuk tells his story through the eyes of the comedy duo Viktor and Volodja, where it is striking that the one who looks the most dangerous (Volodja) is actually the calmest and most compliant of the two. . Sixty-something Viktor sometimes wants to lose his temper, which in turn leads to even more comical situations. Especially when the gentlemen come into contact with the most colorful inhabitants of the village, such as professional drunkard Kolya, who have run straight from a farce. Bondachuk always films the hilarious conversations with sympathy and respect for the people portrayed, which is certainly to be praised.
Since 17 July 2014, we have associated the Ukrainian countryside with the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in which 298 people (including 193 Dutch) were killed. Although Stara Zboerivka is not in the same region as the hamlet where the plane fell, the disaster – one of the many consequences of the Ukrainian-Russian armed conflict – suddenly looms up in this film and reverberates for a long time. After the rich but light and humorous worries of the sheriffs, this unexpected hard confrontation with the reality of the war has an even more powerful impact.