In the radioactive Dead Zone surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4, a defiant community of women scratches out an existence on some of the most toxic land on Earth. They share this hauntingly beautiful but lethal landscape with an assortment of interlopers—scientists, soldiers, and even ‘stalkers’—young thrill-seekers who sneak in to pursue post-apocalyptic video game-inspired fantasies. Why the film’s central characters, Hanna Zavorotyna, Maria Shovkuta, and Valentyna Ivanivna, chose to return after the disaster, defying the authorities and endangering their health, is a remarkable tale about the pull of home, the healing power of shaping one’s destiny and the subjective nature of risk.
Some 200 women defiantly cling to their ancestral homeland in Chernobyl’s radioactive “Exclusion Zone.” While most of their neighbors have long since fled and their husbands have gradually died off, this stubborn sisterhood is hanging on — even, oddly, thriving — while trying to cultivate an existence on toxic earth.
Why do they insist on living on farms that the Ukrainian government and radiation scientists have deemed uninhabitable? How do they manage to get by, isolated, in an abandoned landscape guarded by soldiers, and rife with wild animals? How has the radiation affected them these past 29 years? At her cottage, Hanna Zavorotyna brews homemade moonshine and slices thick chunks of salo, raw pig fat - though it is strictly forbidden to eat local food.
“Starvation is what scares me, not radiation,” she says. That stark choice reveals an incredible journey the women have traveled: from Stalin’s enforced famines in the 1930s, through Nazi occupation, to nuclear disaster. Like the wolves, moose, wild boar and other wildlife not seen for decades that have come back to the abandoned forests around Chernobyl, the women of the Exclusion Zone, too, have an extraordinary story of survival, and offer a dark yet strangely affirming portrait of life post-apocalypse.
The Babushkas of Chernobyl world premiere will be at the Los Angeles Film Festival June 10 – 18 in. Stay tuned for national screening rollout.
LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Sunday, June 14, 11:45 am - Regal Cinemas LA Live
Wednesday, June 17, 6:00 pm - Regal Cinemas LA Live
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We invite you to be a part of the babushka project. Join us on Twitter, Facebook or sign up for regular updates through this website. We are setting up a system to get much-needed medical supplies into the Zone, and directly to the women who need them. Watch this site for details on how you can contribute. If you are interested in making a tax-deductible donation, you can do so via check, phone or online – all via our fiscal sponsor, Women Make Movies:
Babushkas of Chernobyl
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tel: 212-925-0606 fax: 212-925-2052
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Holly Morris is the writer & director of the documentaries "Paradox Found", "Behind Closed Chadors", "Mana Wahines", and "Holy Cow" which feature artists, activists and politicos making change in their home cultures of Iran, New Zealand, India and Cuba. Part of the Adventure Divas series, the documentaries broadcast on PBS in the U.S., and in more than 20 countries worldwide.
She is the author of Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for a New Kind of Heroine (Random House) about the series. Her essay, “A Country of Women," on which The Babushkas of Chernobyl is based, won the Meredith “Creative Excellence Award,” was widely syndicated, and is the topic of her popular TED Talk. Morris is a contributor to The New York Times, “O”, and MORE magazines, and a long-time host of the PBS series “Globe Trekker”.
Anne Bogart is a television producer and director who has filmed around the world for the PBS travel series “Globe Trekker” for 12 years. She has produced and directed numerous entertainment and documentary programming for both French and English-based broadcasters, including the long-running pop culture magazine “Eurotrash” in the U.K. As a journalist, Bogart has written for W magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Women’s Wear Daily, and ElleDecor magazine, among others. She currently divides her time between Los Angeles and London.