Acclaimed cellist Lukas Stasevskij pursues his dream of cinema with documentary “My Ukraine,” currently in development and set to make a bow next week during film industry event Finnish Film Affair.
The film is produced by Tero Tamminen (East Films) and Ilona Tolmunen (Made), also behind Aino Suni’s “Heartbeast,” recently snapped up by France’s Wayna Pitch.
“When Lukas approached Tero Tamminen and then they called me, we were both immediately interested,” Tolmunen tells Variety, praising Stasevskij’s “universal” story about finding one’s identity and understanding the meaning of roots.
“We are aware there are so many stories coming from Ukraine at the moment, but ours has this link between Ukraine and Finland. As a filmmaker, Lukas is at the beginning of his career, but as a professional cellist he has a unique way of approaching the world.”
The film won’t shy away from classical music either. After the invasion, Stasevskij went viral thanks to videos showing him playing in the midst of destruction and ruin.
“At first, I thought it was stupid: Why the hell should I do it? But many Ukrainians were touched by it. They thought it showed our culture was still alive,” he says.
Born into a family of artists – his sister Dalia Stasevska is the principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra – he moved to Finland as a child, developing a “problematic relationship with Ukraine.” In 2021, he decided to embrace his background and focus on filmmaking, ready to study directing in Kyiv.
“And then the war started,” he says. But he decided to stay.
“I am not another war tourist, who came here after it started. I wanted to make Ukrainian films and couldn’t just leave. It was pretty chaotic at first, I had a Finnish passport and no military training. Then [Finland’s broadcasting company] YLE contacted me and I started filming,” he explains.
“I wanted to make fiction films, so it’s crazy that I ended up making a documentary about myself. I have been performing all my life, but it still feels very weird.”
Affected by images from the Maidan revolution, Stasevskij moved to Ukraine to find his identity, only to realize others were questioning it as well once the conflict began, especially Russian-speaking Ukrainians, encouraging him to interweave multiple stories.
Does he feel Ukrainian now?
“Someone asked me that when I first moved here. I will always have Ukrainian roots, no one can take that away from me. But it’s a complex issue. Some Ukrainians say I am Finnish, Finns say I’m Ukrainian. My biological mother is Lithuanian. It’s not about your ethnical background, I think. It’s about what you feel.”
Self-identification is a process, he says.
“When I was still in Finland, I was ashamed to be Ukrainian. Then something changed. It’s good to think about these issues sometimes and I hope this film will encourage others to do it.”
Before the war, Stasevskij was working on a “Django Unchained”-like revenge story about a girl trying to get even after her boyfriend is shot during Maidan protests.
“I wanted to show people finally getting justice. But after the war started, one producer told me that we should show Ukraine in a different light, because we still have a sense of humor, we still have a brighter side.”
A slew of celebrities visiting Ukraine, from Sean Penn to Ben Stiller, have been praising their resilience as well. But Stasevskij remains skeptical.
“We live in this meme culture and everyone wants to be included. It’s not forbidden for non-Ukrainian to make films about Ukraine, but there must be something real and honest about their approach,” he says.
“These very first days, they were so dramatic. You didn’t know what was happening. I was sitting in a bomb shelter, feeling hopeless. Wondering how it is possible that these assholes just come here and destroy everything I love.”
“I would say it was important to show that people were fighting back then, even though they thought they didn’t stand a chance. Now, it’s different. Now, we have hope.”
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