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Clip Premiere: Intercepted

Oksana Karpovych’s Intercepted (2024)

Just a few weeks after Montreal-based documentary filmmaker Oksana Karpovych returned to her native Ukraine, Vladimir Putin sent Russian tanks across the border. Soon after the invasion began on February 24, 2022, Karpovych took a job as a local producer for Al Jazeera and the Security Service of Ukraine, the country’s main intelligence agency, started releasing recordings of phone calls between Russian soldiers and their families back home. Karpovych was listening.

In the press notes for her second feature, Intercepted, which sees its North American premiere on Friday before screening again on Sunday as part of this year’s New Directors/New Films, Karpovych recalls the origins of the project: “It felt so agonizing to go from one reality that I was witnessing during the day, the havoc and the war crimes that were being perpetrated, and then go into another reality and hear the voices and conversations of the Russian soldiers. That clash was shocking because it was absolutely absurd. And it gave me this constant, nagging feeling of cognitive dissonance.”

That dissonance is echoed in the juxtaposition of images of swaths of the country ravaged and then abandoned by the Russians with the sounds of their voices. Working with cinematographer Christopher Nunn, Karpovych and her team began shooting in freshly liberated areas near Kyiv and then moved south, then east, ever closer to the front, shooting bombed out living rooms and kitchens, the charred exteriors of apartment buildings, collapsed bridges, craters blasted next to storefronts, and occasionally, children playing on a swing hung from a tree, teens skateboarding among the ruins, or men repairing what could be salvaged.

“Considered in light of Karpovych’s previous dispatches on the war for Al Jazeera’s twenty-four-hour coverage, it’s worth highlighting the cinematic distinction, and most importantly, the visual and pictorial intelligence, of what we see,” writes David Katz for Cineuropa. And the eerie silence. “The one thing that we really wanted these images to convey,” says Karpovych, “was this dreadful, uneasy sense of time being suspended and the quietness of the war, which people watching the news do not always know about, the quietness that contains so much tension that is impossible to bear sometimes.”

The phone calls hit like interruptions. Culled from thirty-one hours of audio, the clips Karpovych has selected reveal a startlingly diverse range of personalities. Usually talking to a wife, girlfriend, or mother, some of the men marvel at the amenities in the homes they’ve raided and chuckle as they brag about the loot they’ve stolen, the civilians they’ve killed, the Ukrainian soldiers they’ve captured, the bones they’ve broken, the appendages they’ve flayed.

Others confess that they’re on the verge of losing their minds. One says his superior instructed his unit to “kill everyone we see.” Any Russian who dares to retreat is to be killed as well. More than a few say that they don’t expect to make it back home alive, a thought that terrifies some, while others seem so resigned to their fate that they already sound half dead.

The women on the other end of the line are just as varied and unpredictable. One wife launches into a prolonged anti-Putin tirade that would surely get her arrested if she were standing out on a street corner in Moscow. Most, though, regurgitate the propaganda spewing from Russian television, and some of their men on the front—such as the one in the clip we’re premiering below—call them out on it.

Intercepted is “essential viewing, a necessary confrontation with the worst that human beings are capable of,” writes Nelson Kim for Filmmaker. For Stephen Dalton at Film Verdict, the film is “by turns sickening, visually striking, and strangely life-affirming in its depiction of an entire nation’s resilience against Putin’s bloodthirsty imperialist thuggery.”

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