Friday, February 05, 2010

A View from the East: Dwarves Go to the Ukraine

They are the Merry Pranksters of freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe. They even have their own psychedelic bus. However, their idealism is truly a beautiful thing. The self-styled “Dwarves” are profiled in Miroslaw Dembiński’s Dwarves Go to Ukraine, the next installment of A View from the East: Documentaries from Eastern Europe, a series of non-fiction films addressing the Communist experience as part of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s multi-disciplinary Performing Revolution festival.

For the Dwarves, the color orange forms a bond of solidarity between Poland and Ukraine. During the marital law period, the Communist government assiduously white-washed over Solidarity graffiti whenever it cropped up. As the white patches proliferating across the country, Waldemar “Major” Frydrych starting filling them with dwarf caricatures to underscore the absurdity of the Communist system. Inevitably, the site of protestors wearing orange dwarf caps being hauled away by the authorities also became a common site that would logically link the color with Poland’s emerging democracy movement.

Twenty-some years later, the color orange was also adopted by the Ukrainian democracy movement, mobilized by a brazenly rigged run-off election ostensibly won by the Russian-oriented Yanukovych government. Under intense international pressure, a new run-off election was ordered, pitting Yanukovych against opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. Recognizing the importance of the moment, the Dwarves broke out their orange caps, loaded up a bus, and headed to Ukraine to show their support for Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution.

Dembiński is hardly ambitious stylistically, but he captures history in the making from a very personal perspective. Many of the man-on-the-street interviews seem to offer a real window into Ukrainian attitudes and the Dwarves themselves have an endearing knack for combining whimsy and serious principles (the sculpted chocolate Yushchenko and Yanukovych heads are a particularly eccentric touch). Ultimately, there is just something refreshing about the younger Dwarves’ unpretentious idealism (not to mention some are cute too) that makes Ukraine a pleasant and even inspiring viewing experience.

Those who can sneak away from the office Tuesday afternoons at 2:30 are strongly advised to check out the View from the East series. It is a rare opportunity to check out many hard to see documentaries, like the Ukraine. Previous films included Alexandru Solomon’s Cold Waves, which explained how the American financed Radio Free Europe built up a staggering 65% listenership among all Romanians. Scoring some impressive interviews and filmed with visual flair, Wave is an intriguing film rarely screened in New York. Likewise, there just have not been many chances for most New Yorkers too view Czech television’s The Man Who Overestimated the Czech Soul: the Escapes of Josef Bryks. Imprisoned first by the Nazis and then the Czechoslovakian Communists, the Czech born RAF Captain led a tragically eventful life that makes for fascinating viewing.

Warmly recommended, Ukraine screens at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts this coming Tuesday (2/9) with another Dembiński “Orange” short. View continues through February 23rd with Andre Meier’s provocatively titled Do Communists Have Better Sex? and Neven Korda and Zemira Alajbegovic’s The Old and the New, while Performing Revolution continues through March 31 with a variety of programming.