The Spring 2023 edition of New Jersey Film Festival, which runs from Jan. 27 to Feb. 19 in New Brunswick and online, features directors from various locations around the United States as well as Japan, England, Germany, Israel, France, Brazil, Austria, Canada and Ukraine. The last country is represented by two filmmakers who have made evocative short films representing very personal responses to Russia’s invasion.
Oleksandra Pletenetska’s 15-minute, black-and-white “When Will the Warmth Come?,” which will be shown on Jan. 28, is described as a “diary of my feelings.” It shows her traveling, and discussing, with friends or relatives, curfews, and states of emergency, and what to do if your car gets stopped by authorities. “They may comes to your house and say, ‘I’m sorry, we need to house 14 million people,’ ” someone says.
She talks to her mother about hiding in the basement in the event of a bombing; Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen and heard addressing the state of the country on television. She stays with her grandparents. There is more traveling, more anxious waiting, some snowfall. “I hardly talk; I keep silent a lot,” she says into the camera.
In the film’s most chilling scene, a mundane story is interrupted by a nearby explosion — not close enough to pose an immediate danger, but more than close enough to be startling.
Pletenetska doesn’t try to make a story out of her footage. “When Will the Warmth Come?” is really just a series of scenes about ordinary people, dealing with their lives as the world collapses around them.
Olena Podolianko and Novruz Hikmet’s “It Is Quiet Here,” a 13-minute film to be shown on Feb. 3, explores similar themes with a different approach. It is fictional, and shot in the first month after the invasion. A man and a woman — we never learn their names — are heard talking. She’s talking about the war, and trying to make sense of it all. “Why did they shoot at the shopping mall?” she asks. He answers with a proposition: “Let’s not speak about the war, only for tonight.” They’ve just had a long drive, he says, and they’ve “earned the right.”
She agrees. Now we see they’re in a cheap motel room. They have a peaceful night. But come morning, they receive, via cellphone, disturbing news about a bombing, and the horror returns.
“There was a moment when I thought that I managed to let it go,” he says. “And then somehow …”
“I just want to live my normal life,” she says.
They are in Uzhhorod. It’s a city in Western Ukraine, on the Slovakian border. It has not yet been directly touched by the war, and people seem to be going on with their lives.
“Everyone pretends that everything is OK,” she says. But that’s not really fair. They just don’t know what to do. They’re just — like Oleksandra Pletenetska in “When Will the Warmth Come?,” and millions more around the country — numbed and full of dread. The war is hanging over their heads, disaster is possibly right around the corner, and there is nothing they can do about it.
“When Will the Warmth Come?” is part of the New Jersey Film Festival’s “Shorts Program #1,” which will be shown at 5 p.m. Jan. 28 at Voorhees Hall at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. “It Is Quiet Here” is part of the festival’s “Shorts Program #2,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. Feb. 3 at Voorhees Hall. Both films also will be available online. Visit njfilmfest.com.
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