In August 2018, the Czech Republic and Slovakia commemorate the 50th anniversary of the invasion of the Warsaw Pact army into Czechoslovakia, justified by the Soviet political elite as the suppression of a counter-revolution taking place in the country. This important point in the history is presented from an unusual point of view in the documentary "My Unknown Soldier" directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Anna Kryvenko.
The film consists of well-known as well as never-published archive footage from all over Europe and Russia, and it is narrated by one of the soldiers who participated in the occupation, and by proxy by his niece, the director of the film. The documentary offers a fresh perspective on the events of 1968, and it shows not only the history of Soviet military machinery and propaganda, but also its reflection in the the politics of contemporary Russia.
"The original inspiration for the film was suppressed family history. Specifically, the history of my own family. When I visited my relatives in Ukraine, I discovered old photo albums in which one character was cut out of many of the photographs. It took me some time to find out at least the fragments of his story - the story that my family was trying to forget," Kryvenko explains the genesis of the film. “It was important to me to show that there’s an opposite side in any life situation, and it is not always an absolute contrast - Good vs. Evil, Victim vs. Assassin, East vs. West. Within these constructs, there are actual human beings who suffer. One of the film's motifs is the feeling of inherited guilt, guilt for something one did not do. I, as well as many other people from the former Soviet Union, still feel this way. To my film, the present day is just as important as the history."
Using archive footage, the director reconstructs possible scenarios of what her grandfather could have experienced as a member of the invading army. With the main storyline as its key, the film opens up the topics of power abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers, as well as question of sympathy towards the occupiers and the occupied population of Czechoslovakia. "The story of my ancestor could be the story of any of the young soldiers who came marching into the country in August 1968. They were human beings trapped in the machinery of war and the games of the global superpowers," adds the director.
The events of 1968 present a permanent, unhealed trauma of the Czech and Slovak history, and are still not forgiven today. This fact is also reflected by Kryvenko in the documentary through her own experience as an immigrant living in Prague. The global political situation has also found its way into the film, particularly the Russian occupation of the Crimea and the ongoing struggles in Eastern Ukraine.
The premiere of the film is going to take place on August 17, 2018, on the roof of Prague's Lucerna Palace, and then will be screened at multiple venues throughout the city. Later on, the film will be distributed through the KineDok platform and streamed online via DAFilms.cz.
The film was made in a Czech-Latvian-Slovak co-production with the participation of Czech Television, Radio and Television of Slovakia, and the Film and TV Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. The film was also supported by the European fund Eurimages, the Czech State Fund for Cinema, the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, and the Latvian Film Center.