Bitter Harvest


The Ukrainian novelist Oksana Zabuzhko once wrote, “We, the poor relatives of the European household, have but a meager chance of being heard in the post-informational world.”

Zabuzhko was writing for a specifically Western readership when she continued, “I can dutifully submit all my Ukrainian rationale for my long-time obsession with the seemingly buried-for-good ‘secrets’ of the past that begin surfacing after decades, dramatically changing people’s self-awareness…”

Of all the tragic dramas of Ukrainian history, the story of the Holodomor/Famine in 1930s Ukraine is only now starting to be heard among a wider global public.  This is largely due to the deeply disparate worlds of the subject and the intended audiences. The sparse history of the Famine in cinema is of course due in part to past political restrictions. For Ukrainian filmmakers during the Soviet era the topic was of course best left unacknowledged and unexplored. And for other filmmakers the examination of a long-suppressed and ignored story was always going to be challenging.

Enter Ian Ihnatowycz. The Toronto entrepreneur and investor fully financed the recently released Bitter Harvest. The widely distributed epic finally gives a voice to the very marginalized victims of its story. “This is a period of history that is virtually unknown in the west,” Ihnatowycz told the film trade publication Screen. “I wanted to make this story understood more widely so making it English language with a known cast will hopefully help make it more appealing to a western audience. It also has a lot of relevance to what is happening in Ukraine today.”

The highly lauded visuals of the film are due to the cinematographer Douglas Milsome, who worked with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining and Full Metal Jacket. The considerable resources placed into the film have produced a creative work that offers dignity and humanity to the Famine’s victims and their descendants.

The stories of the past are refracted through many lenses. The Ukrainian community worldwide is striving to finally take control of their own narratives. The initiative behind Bitter Harvest reflects the moral imperative articulated by the writer Zabuzhko, who reminds us, “It’s now time…to put together the scattered pieces of unrecorded memories, to dig skeletons out of closets, and to speak for the dead.”

Watch producer Ian Ihnatowycz and actor Jeremy Irons interviewed by Salon here.