(Reuters) – Days after Russia launched its war on Ukraine, Polish filmmaker Maciek Hamela left his home in Warsaw, bought a van, and began transporting evacuees to safety.
Hamela’s documentary, “In the Rearview,” chronicles six months of journeys and hours of footage, giving a raw and intimate picture of the war in real time.
Hosting its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday, Hamela hopes the audience can put themselves in the refugees’ shoes.
“I hope that this film will remind those who might think that the war is over or that it has become a never-ending stalemate … to reconsider,” he told Reuters.
As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues through its second year, there are more than 6 million Ukrainian refugees, many of whom fled to Europe and others to various parts of the globe, according to data from UNHCR.
“Many of these people, especially in the first weeks of the war, they just wanted to get out,” Hamela said. “People would walk into the van, and they would often say, ‘just take me somewhere.’”
The documentary is shot almost entirely in the van, showing excerpts of passenger conversations and views of the scenery.
Destroyed buildings and blown-up vehicles line the roads as passengers look out the windows with their children, pets or belongings stuffed into plastic bags on their laps.
Children break the tension in the car, acting typically restless and badgering one another. However, their astuteness is unsettling. In one instance, a little girl looks out the window as they pass intact apartments and says, “such beautiful buildings, not bombed at all.”
Another moment shows a young boy’s eyes light up as they drive past open waters: “We’ll come back here when the war is over, right mom?” His mother says absolutely.
The van is multifunctional, serving as a shelter, a hospital for a wounded woman, and a place for confession and conversation among strangers who are sharing in a life-defining moment.
“I’d like people to come and see this film not just because it’s about the war in Ukraine,” Hamela said. “It’s about the state of mind when you realize you’re becoming a refugee. This can happen to anybody.”
(Reporting by Jenna Zucker; Editing by David Gregorio)