Aussie-directed documentary makes headlines in Venice

05 September, 2013 by Don Groves

A scene from Ukraine is Not a Brothel. 


Ukraine is Not a Brothel, Australian director Kitty Green’s debut documentary on the country’s topless feminist movement Femen, caused a stir at its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

The reason: the doco reveals the group was founded by a man, Victor Svyatski, who left the collective a year ago.

Founded in 2008, Femen’s members have destroyed Ukrainian Orthodox crucifixes and staged nude stunts targeting political and religious figures including Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin, protesting against sexism, discrimination and authoritarianism.

Green, who is 28, first read about Femen in a discarded tabloid newspaper during a trip to her grandmother’s native Ukraine. She was intrigued by the caption “Topless Feminists” and decided to spend year sharing a two-bedroom flat in Kiev with five Femen activists, filming protests and getting arrested with them. At one point she was abducted by the KGB and deported from Belarus.

Before the premiere she said, “The truth behind Ukraine’s topless feminist movement has yet to be revealed in any of the thousands of press articles about Femen. Ukraine is Not a Brothel is a shocking glimpse into the secret lives of these bold and beautiful women. It is a film that speaks volumes about the brutal strength of patriarchal culture throughout the Eastern bloc.”

The 78-minute film screened in Venice days after the feminist organisation announced it was leaving Ukraine after its members had been “systematically harassed, severely beaten, kidnapped, and repeatedly received threats” from the authorities.

On the day of the premiere Green told The Independent that Svyatski is not just a supporter of Femen but its founder and éminence grise. “It’s his movement and he hand-picked the girls,” she said. “He hand-picked the prettiest girls because the prettiest girls sell more papers. The prettiest girls get on the front page… that became their image, that became the way they sold the brand.”

Green told IF from Venice, "The press is going wild. It is completely bizarre." Femen’s headquarters are in Paris and it has 10 offices around the world.

Tel Aviv-based Cinephil has acquired worldwide sales rights to the documentary. There’s no word yet on an Australian deal. Cinephil represents Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers (which opened in Australia today via Madman) and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (opening October 5, also via Madman).