Breaking Point – The War for Democracy in Ukraine, the newest documentary from Academy Award winning director Mark Jonathan Harris (The Long Way Home, Into the Arms of Strangers), makes you appreciate the struggle people go through to break free from the chains of oppressive regimes. Harris illustrates the history of the Ukrainian people in vivid human terms. Those of you who used to fall asleep in history class, don’t worry. You won’t fall asleep during this film.
The film documents various elections, uprisings, and wars from 1991 to 2017 by following the lives of several people including a children’s theater director, a doctor, a soldier, a rabbi, a TV journalist, and an investigative reporter. Their lives and relationships change in unexpected ways as their fates become intertwined with the struggles of their country.
The film tells the story through interviews and some of the most amazing real-time footage I have ever seen.
The Ukraine is a Slavic country north of the Black Sea. It’s blessing has also been its curse. Known as “the bread basket of Europe,” its rich soil has been the target of waves of invaders for over 700 years. Mongols, Poles, Turks, and Russians have successively invaded and ruled the country. The breakup of the Soviet Union enabled the Ukraine to go its own way. But, now, the Russians are back.
One of the people in the film quotes the Ukrainian national anthem. “When your national anthem begins, ‘Ukraine has not died yet,’” she observed, “you know you are living on the edge.”
Not only have the people been victims of invasions, they have suffered persecutions in “peaceful” times. During 1932-33, Communist ruler of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, intentionally held back and destroyed food, causing mass starvation in the Ukraine. Millions more died during WWII when German armies swept through in an attempt to reach the oil rich Caucasus.
Sharing religious and cultural ties with Western Europe, it has long been a dream of many Ukrainians to have closer ties with the European community. It is at this point in the early 1990s that the film begins.
Writer/Director/Producer Mark Jonathan Harris creates films that focus on the struggle of people to escape oppression. His many creations for TV and cinema include Huelga!, about Cesar Chavez and the Delano grape strike; The Long Way Home, about the period immediately following the Holocaust, which won an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1997; and, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, an Academy Award winner for Best Feature Documentary in 2000.
Breaking Point begins with a ride to a battle with a man who explains that he was a children’s theater teacher. He says, “I’m the kind of person who thinks beauty, art, and love will save the world.” Unfortunately, he must use hand grenades to protect beauty, art and love from the “separatists,” actually Russian troops not wearing insignia, in eastern Ukraine.
The film progresses through a series of other people whose lives are turned upside down by the struggle for democracy. In the end, the film returns to the theater teacher and his efforts.
One of the lives documented in the film is that of Sergei Loiko, Moscow correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He came to Ukraine to cover a story, expecting to stay only a few days. He was so impressed by what he saw, he ended up devoting two years of his life to covering the conflict.
You, too, will be impressed by the story of the Ukrainian struggle told so well in this film. Breaking Point opened March 2, at New York’s Cinema Village, and will play beginning March 9, in Los Angeles at Laemmle Music Hall and in Chicago at Theater TBC. To find out about future showings check the film’s website. A trailer is linked below.