‘My Unknown Soldier’ Director’s Family Secret: ‘There Was a Hole…’

Interview with Anna Kryvenko, the director of My Unknown Soldier

Some 50 years after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet forces, tensions in the Czech Republic still remain. Indeed, although she hails from Ukraine, an area whose people have much more in common with the Czechs than they perhaps realize, director Anna Kryvenko, who now lives in Prague, is well aware of anti-immigrant prejudice that Russian-speakers often face on a daily basis there. However, this was not uppermost in her mind when Kryvenko embarked on the film school project that eventually became her feature debut “My Unknown Soldier,” which premieres in the First Light strand of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.

Using rare archival footage from the time, the film pivots on a family secret that only came to light as Kryvenko was researching the period: her grand uncle was part of the occupying forces that came to Czechoslovakia in 1968 as a Soviet soldier and had subsequently been banished from the family album. Confronted with this story, Kryvenko was moved to create both a poetic meditation on the Prague Spring and a film that has much to say about today, especially given the proliferation of intolerant far-right sentiment that has spread around the world.

When did you realize you had the material for a feature film?
Oh, a few years ago. It’s already been three years since I started work on this film, so it was maybe four or five years ago. I was at my parents’ home in Ukraine [at the time] – I’m now living in the Czech Republic, in Prague, where I was studying at film school. I was at home with my parents that summer, because for some time I was working with the family archives. I wasn’t only doing films at film school, I was doing Audio-visual Studies, which meant we were working with visual art and sound design and gallery space. This was going to be a small, experimental film about family and home – all these questions – and I thought it would be interesting to look at some family photos and use them somehow.

What did you find?
I was sitting with my mother, I remember, in the kitchen. Our family is not so big, and in one of the pictures there was a hole. I asked my mother who it was [that was missing], and it was really interesting because she didn’t remember. It was like there was a hole in her memory too. But a week or two later, when I was back in Prague, she called me and said it was my grand uncle, who was in Prague in 1968. I thought, ‘Wow, this is great, but I don’t know what to do with it.’

Why not?

For all answers go to Variety.com

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