On Feb. 25, a day after Russia launched a full-scale attack on their home country, Ukrainian filmmaker Antonio Lukich and his crew were rushing around Kyiv.
The team had wrapped filming Luckich’s second feature, Luxembourg, Luxembourg, and the content was scattered on hard drives in different locations across the capital of Ukraine.
“We were literally saving the material,” said Lukich, in an interview with CBC News in Toronto.
It was the beginning of a months-long journey for the filmmaker, who vowed to keep his family safe but was equally determined to finish his project in time for its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in early September, and its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film festival this past week.
TIFF made the decision earlier this year to ban all state-sponsored films from Russia. As a result, there are no Russian films in the festival — but it does have programming dedicated to showcasing Ukrainian filmmakers.
Luxembourg, Luxembourg follows the story of twin brothers, played by rappers Ramil and Amil Nasirov, who grow up in the shadow of their absent father. When they receive word that their father is dying in a Luxembourg hospital, they embark on a road trip from Ukraine to see him.
Film ‘literally gave us hope’
“It is amazing miracle for us that we finished the film and now have opportunity to show it to an international audience,” said Lukich.
In the days following the start of the war, post-production of Luxembourg, Luxembourg halted indefinitely as the team separated. Some joined the fight, while others fled the country.
Like millions of other Ukrainians displaced by the war, Lukich also left, taking his wife and three-year-old son west to his hometown of Uzhhorod, near the Ukraine-Slovakia border. Eventually, they made it to Slovenia.
About a month later, he returned to Kyiv without his family, determined to finish the film.
“That film literally gave us hope for life,” said Lukich. “We felt it’s our mission … since we’ve been making it for three years and know the potential of the film.”
A film about absent parents
Luxembourg, Luxembourg was inspired by Lukich’s relationship with his own late father, from whom he was estranged.
“When he passed away he left me with a huge emptiness inside,” the director said. “That was the main fuel [for the film] — to find out who is this guy who created me.”
14:40Ukrainian director Antonio Lukich on Luxembourg, Luxembourg and making art in the midst of war
Lukich’s vision for his feature further crystallized after the invasion of Ukraine began and he saw thousands of men join the army.
“It’s a film about absent parents. War ruins not only buildings; war ruins families as well,” he said, pointing to the generation of men who died in the Second World War.
“Now, we will be faced [again] with a huge generation of absent parents, which is really sad.”
This is why Lukich says he hopes his son won’t remember the day the air raid sirens went off and he hid under the table.
It’s also why he tried to bring attention to the impact of war as he and the cast appeared on the red carpet in Venice earlier this month.
While there are several Ukrainian-focused films at TIFF this year, Lukich is the only Ukrainian director to screen his film while attending the festival in Toronto.
“I’m a privileged one,” he said. “Friends and people I know don’t have such ability to appear in such beautiful places.”
Now that the world has seen his film, Lukich hopes to eventually bring Luxembourg, Luxembourg to audiences back home.