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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Nick Shumaker UTA ShumakerN@unitedtalent.com
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Huge thanks to our generous funders:
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HOLLY MORRIS (Director, Producer) makes films that explore the lives of risk-taking, contemporary women around the globe; including,Behind Closed Chad-ors (Iran), Holy Cow (India), Mana Wahines (New Zealand) and Paradox Found (Cuba) - all broadcast on PBS, and internationally, as part of her Adventure Divas series. Her award-winning & widely syndicated journalism on the Babushkas of Chernobyl (2011), also published as A Country of Women, and The Women Living in Chernobyl's Toxic Wasteland and The Best Travel Writing; Travelers Tales reported on the women of the Zone and is also the subject of her popular TED Talk. She’s the author of Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for a New Kind of Heroine (Random House), a New York Times Notable book about exploration. Her story the subculture of illegal 'Stalkers' inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was originally published in Slate. Morris has filmed in more than 20 countries, and is a longtime presenter for the PBS series Globe Trekker. @hollymorris
ANNE BOGART (Director, Producer) has filmed around the world for the PBS travel series “Globe Trekker” for 12 years. She has produced and directed programming for both French and English-based broadcasters, including the long-running pop culture magazine “Eurotrash” in the U.K. Bogart has written for W magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Women’s Wear Daily, and ElleDecor magazine. She divides her time between London and Los Angeles.
NANCY NORDHOFF & LYNN HAYS (Executive Producers) Nancy Nordhoff is American philanthropist and environmentalist. She and artist Lynn Hays work to empower women, support rural communities, and promote environmentalism. In 2006, Nordhoff was designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project. Nancy Nordhoff is the founder of Hedgebrook, a residency on Washington State’s Whidbey Island that supports women writers.
JILL MAZURSKY (Executive Producer) is a screenwriter, film producer, and director. Her films include two with JJ Abrams - Taking Care of Business and Gone Fishin. Recently she executive produced Award- winning documentary Keep On Keepin On.
STACY SHERMAN (Executive Producer) was nominated for an Academy Award for God Sleeps In Rwanda (2005), a documentary short, which received the Emmy. Stacy was Associate Producer of Chasing Ice, a documentary, which won the Emmy in 2014. Stacy has sold screenplays to 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. She recently directed a feature The Break Up Girl, which was released by Gravitas Ventures.
BILLY RAY (Executive Producer) is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Captain Phillips; co-wrote The Hunger Games and State Of Play, and wrote and directed Shattered Glass and Breach. He wrote and directed his new film, Secret In Their Eyes, starring Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Chiwetel Ejio for IM Global and STX.
ABIGAIL E. DISNEY & GINI RETICKER (Co-Executive Producers) Abigail E. Disney is an award-winning filmmaker, philanthropist and the CEO and president of Fork Films. An active supporter of peace-building, she is passionate about advancing women's roles in the public sphere. Disney's directorial debut, The Armor of Light, was selected for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Gini Reticker is an Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker. Her directorial debut, The Heart Of The Matter, is a groundbreaking film about women and HIV that received the Sundance Freedom of Expression Award. In 2004, Reticker was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary short Asylum,. In 2005, Reticker took home an Emmy for Ladies First, which highlighted the crucial role women played in rebuilding post-genocide Rwanda; and received a second Emmy nomination for producing A Decade Under The Influence. In 2006, she joined forces with producer Abigail Disney to direct the renowned Pray The Devil Back To Hell.
ENAT SIDI (Consulting Editor) edited 2015 Sundance winner The Wolf Pack, The Boys of Baraka (2005 Emmy nominee), Jesus Camp (2006 Academy Award nominee), HBO’s 12th & Delaware (Peabody winner) and Detropia, for which she won the editing award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. She recently acted as the consulting editor on Bully, the high profile doc released in 2012 by the Weinstein Company.
JAPHET WEEKS (Cinematographer) is an American video journalist and cinematographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Formerly Moscow-based, Weeks speaks Russian and Mandarin and films for PBS's Frontline, Al Jazeera, New York Times Television and Voice of America.
RICHARD HOWARD (Editor) is a UK based editor whose edited numerous documentary, travel, lifestyle, crime, drama and historical TV films and series’. He is the BBC series editor for In Cold Blood and edits the Globe Trekker travel series (National geographic, PBS), Bazaar, Planet Food (Food Network), Ottomans vs Christians.
MARY MANHARDT (Editor) Mary’s verite documentary editing has been seen and honored at all major festivals; among her credits: The Farm, The Execution of Wanda Jean, Girlhood, Farmingville, Street Fight, American Teen, Racing Dreams, Mystic Ball, Monica & David, Pelotero, Wham! Bam! Islam!, A Son's Sacrifice, Bronx Princess, Camp Victory, Afghanistan, American Promises, Medora, Tough Love, and most recently, Tig (Sundance 2015) Mary won an Emmy award in 1999 for Picture Editing for The Farm.
MICHAEL TAYLOR (Editor) Documentary credits include Mitch McCabe’s Youth Knows No Pain (HBO Documentary Films), Margaret Brown’s The Order of Myths (Sundance Film Festival, Peabody Award winner and Cinema Guild’s Truer than Fiction Spirit Award winner) Josef Astor’s Lost Bohemia (DOC NYC Special Jury Prize winner), Melanie Judd and Susan Motamed’s Girl, Adopted, (PBS Global Voices), and Vanessa Hope's All Eyes and Ears, (Tribeca Film Festival).