‘Everyone was absolutely terrified’: British director who helped Ukrainian crew escape war | Movies

Making a film is difficult enough at the best of times, but the Oscar-winning British director and his team faced a particularly daunting challenge.

Hugh Welchman of Breakthru Films, who has painting animation studios in Poland, Lithuania and Serbia, opened another in Kiev in January – only to close it a few weeks later and help its artists flee to safety after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The animators and their families were evacuated to Poland filmmakers who shuttled back and forth to the border arranged their own registration, accommodation and health care, and handled bank accounts, work permits and immigration paperwork.

Of the 78 painter animators at Breakthru’s four studios, 23 are Ukrainian. The three fled with the children, for whom the filmmakers also provided child care and education.

Welchman, 2008. winning an Oscar for his animation Peter and the wolftold Observer: “Our team worked for three weeks when the war started. Our immediate reaction was to just get people out. Everyone was absolutely terrified for their loved ones, for their country, for the fact that they might never be able to go back.

Sean Bobbitt, Welchman’s co-producer, said: “It was heartbreaking to meet colleagues at the border who had left behind everything that didn’t fit in their backpacks, confused, distraught and exhausted.

A picture from the “Peasants” wedding feast. Photo: BreakThru Films

Now they are working on an animation adaptation of the painting about Peasantsan epic story set in the 19th century, forgotten by the Polish writer Władysław Reymont, 1924. winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, a masterpiece.

Welchman said: “In the book, it’s actually during the Russian occupation of Poland, and the big bad guys are the Russians. It was pure coincidence that we made this film. History repeated itself a couple of times in this part of the world, when Russia invaded Poland and Ukraine. After the Russian occupation of Poland, Peasants was not a favorite novel. It was very suppressed.”

Some of his artists also worked on him in 2018. nominated for an Oscar. Dear Vincent, the story of Vincent van Gogh. Painting by hand, they recreated 84 of his paintings and brought them to life through 56,000 painting frames.

Peasants is more complex as they create around 1,500 paintings with around 70,000 frames in a more realistic style inspired by the 19th century. Polish artists.

Breakthru Films has painting and animation studios in Sopot, Poland, Vilnius, Lithuania and Belgrade, Serbia. Welchman came to the region because it offers artists who can paint with traditional skills, unlike Britain. Speaking of Dorota Kobiela, his co-writer-director Peasants, he said: “In Poland you get more traditional training. Dorota entered the art academy when she was 14 and graduated at 23. This is nine years of special art education. These are all oil painters of a very high standard.

He described Peasants, a story of rural scandal and romance, as “the greatest ever about the peasant condition”: “The level of detail, the character, you really feel like you’re in that world. You feel their passion and their struggles. The heart of the story is a twisted love quadrangle. The protagonist, Jagna, catches the eye of the richest farmer and starts an affair with his married son.

Although the film will premiere next year, Penguin Classics will be released this month new translation Anna Zaranko, the first since 1924.

Ka Bradley, its commissioning editor, described Peasants as “a landmark work of European literature” that may have been forgotten by Anglophone audiences because the earlier English translation “failed to capture the bright energy, drama and humor of the original”.

The filmmakers reopened the Kiev studio in August “so our artists would have work again,” Welchman said: “They weren’t allowed to leave the country because they’re all of military age.” Now there are 15 painting animators working in that studio, but our latest challenge is power outages due to Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

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