Featured at Columbia’s very own True/False Film Fest this past weekend, Kitty Green’s recent documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel interviews the people behind the feminist protest group Femen. Originally based in Ukraine, Femen has gained international notoriety for the fact that its members protest with their messages displayed on their breasts. (Insert obligatory NSFW warning for the trailer below here.)
It might surprise you to know that Femen’s protest methods were once quite orthodox, and their original protests were aimed at the prostitution and trafficking of Ukrainian women (hence the title of the film). In the film, members explain that nobody paid attention to their message when they protested conventionally, but everybody paid attention when they started painting it on their breasts. They also see toplessness as a way of protesting the exploitation of the female body, an explanation that many people find contradictory and/or incompatible with feminist principles (in fact, blogger Mona Chollet of Le Monde diplomatique refers to their brand of feminism as “fast-food feminism“).
It might also surprise you to know that one of the original masterminds behind Femen is a man. His name is Viktor Svyatski, and his interview in the film is, er, interesting, to say the least—he comes across as both exploitative and yet oddly aware of the ironic nature of his (former) role as “patriarch” of the group. Inna Shevchenko of Femen France reveals that she moved the group’s base from Ukraine to France two years ago in part to loosen Femen from his control and in part to avoid political persecution in Ukraine.
Going back to the subject of the True/False festival, Inna Shevchenko actually appeared in person for a Q&A with director Kitty Green after the screening that I attended. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay a few minutes before having to run to catch another film, but I did see them walking by on the street later (my one and only claim to fame). If you were in the same boat as me and/or want to find out more about how the documentary was filmed, I highly suggest checking out this interview of Green from the British website Female First.
For more information on Femen’s mission in the group’s own words, check out their English-language website here or their (now-defunct, but still potentially interesting) Russian-language blog here. If you haven’t seen Ukraine is Not a Brothel (or if you have and are interested in something that runs along the same vein), I also recommend taking a look at “The femen phenomenon” by Reuters blogger Gleb Garanich.