30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, some 100 women fiercely cling to their ancestral homeland inside the 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 3 decades?
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.
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 documentary series. Her award-winning journalism on the Babushkas of Chernobyl (2011), published as The Women Living in Chernobyl's Toxic Wasteland and The Best Travel Writing (Travelers Tales) first 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 a longtime presenter for the internationally broadcast series Globe Trekker. @hollymorris www.hollymorris.com
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 Los Angeles Times, Women’s Wear Daily, and ElleDecor. 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. Nancy Nordhoff is the founder of Hedgebrook, a residency 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. 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. 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, received the Sundance Freedom of Expression Award. In 2004, Reticker was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary short Asylum, In 2006, she joined forces with Abigail Disney to direct the renowned Pray The Devil Back To Hell.
MARINA OREKHOVA (Field Producer & Translator) Marina is a Kyiv-based producer working with American documentary directors and European TV crews in Ukraine. She has co-produced the Sundance Grand Jury winnerThe Russian Woodpecker by Chad Gracia (2015), line-produced award-winning The Babushkas of Chernobyl by Holly Morris and Anne Bogart (2015) and Bloody Moneyby Havana Marking (2016). She has collaborated with ARTE, ZDF, BBC, RBB on a number of TV programs shot in Ukraine. Marina has rich background in festival management in Ukraine and event management worldwide.
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 extensive credits include: 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 Youth Knows No Pain (HBO Documentary Films), The Order of Myths (Sundance Film Festival, Peabody Award winner and Cinema Guild’s Truer than Fiction Spirit Award winner) Lost Bohemia (DOC NYC Special Jury Prize winner), Girl, Adopted, (PBS Global Voices), and All Eyes and Ears, (Tribeca Film Festival).
ROB TEEHAN (Composer) Documentary scores include: This is Gay Propaganda, The Unsinkable Captain John, The Sugar Bowl, and Flor de la Mar. As a musician he played tuba and toured with many bands in Toronto including the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, has recorded on over 40 albums, and has earned three JUNO nominations (Canada's Grammy equivalent).