The Mark Left in Ukraine by Silvana

The risks and obstacles behind the screening of Silvana in a country like Ukraine and the social importance of the action!

An article by Docudays UA International Travelling Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. 


Silvana (directors Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring, Christina Tsiobanelis) was the second film to be screened in Lviv from the Queerality thematic program, which appeared at the Docudays UA in Kyiv for the first time this year and aimed to cover the issues of LGBTIQ people’s lives. Since our festival is not only about films, but also includes various human rights events, it’s better to start our description of Silvana’s journey with the events that preceded the screening.



Increased Security


Public events related to LGBTIQ topics cannot be considered safe either in Ukraine in general (the latest events include the blocking of the Coming Out Fest concert in Kharkiv, the MPs’ attempts to pass homophobic laws), or in Lviv in particular (the disruption of the Festival of Equality in 2016, after which there haven’t even been any attempts to organize such festivals in Lviv). Among others, this year’s Docudays UA Festival in Kyiv also faced violence while trying to talk about the problems of the spread of far-right movements. And the cinema where Silvana premiered in Ukraine has been rebuilt after an arson by homophobes during one of the screenings of the Molodist Film Festival’s LGBT program in 2014.


Therefore, the organization of the screenings of Silvana and My Body Is Political (two films from the Queerality program) required some advance thinking about security. The planned locations of the screenings were the Dovzhenko Center and the Lviv Regional Youth Center, respectively. During the negotiations with the administrators of the locations about the festival screenings, the coordinators articulated the content of the films and the organizational moments aimed to create a safe space. The films did not raise any objections, and the collaboration was agreed upon; however, the issue of security was not a regular task for both locations, so the involvement of guards and the organization of security measures fell on the coordinators’ shoulders.


Already at the stage of signing the contracts about collaboration and transferring the rights to public screenings of the festival program, the Administration of the Dovzhenko Center suddenly refused to cooperate, citing overlaps in their schedule. However, the refusal was preceded by questions about the content and the protagonist of the film Silvana. We can only guess what the actual reasons of rejection were.


However, in this context, we would like to compliment the leadership of the Regional Youth Center and the Territory of Terror Memorial Museum of Totalitarian Regimes, because they were not scared away either by the topic or by the possibility of blocking and attacks on the location during the events; they provided their full cooperation and support. It should also be noted that the police fulfilled their duties, providing security for the events and direct phone numbers of responsible persons. In the end, the screenings went peacefully, without any threats or attempts to block them.



Why Silvana?


Through the description of this situation, we approach the problems discussed in the film Silvana, which was filmed in Sweden in 2014-17 by the directors Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring and Christina Tsiobanelis, but which is relevant for Ukraine, too. The things articulated by the film’s protagonist, the rapper Silvana Imam, are not as obvious in Ukraine as, for example, the war with Russia or the poverty of elderly people.


In Silvana, we see a young, pretty and courageous singer who seems to do her favorite thing in the world — rapping, with a crowd of fans around her. The camera lens picks out the fans’ young ecstatic faces. In the eyes of a Ukrainian person, Silvana looks rather privileged, and the outrage in her texts can seem staged and hyped — simply because we are used to the exploitation of hip hop for commercial purposes. The situation of someone opposing homophobia and fascism can be concealed behind the image of the strong rapper and her confident aggressive lyrics.


In her texts, the young Swedish rapper talks about the oppression of lesbians in the society, about Nazism, about her personal fear of living next to people who hate her: “you say my love is illegal,” “they draw swastikas on the walls, they hide next door, they are in the government,” “they hate everything I am, but I’m still standing,” “now the Nazis want to crucify me,” “they forced me, pushed me hard, and they created a monster.”


Silvana talks from the position of her own identities as a homosexual woman from a mixed ethnic background, particularly Arab, and as someone who fights for equal rights: a feminist, anti-homophobic and anti-fascist activist. These identities are like signs for understanding the system of value coordinates for those for whom the activist Silvana performs, and those whom she opposes. They may sound forced or just excessive, but they do form a language for understanding. Silvana seems to feel the need to justify herself. “No time for hidden messages, and they never listened to me or understood my language, so I have to shout.” “To shout” means to pick loud words, speak in simplified terms, use labels.


She also has to shout because it’s a characteristic of the genre. Rap became an accessible instrument for communicating one’s position in the US in the 1970s, and it still remains a working tool for artists who can express as many ideas as possible with as few artistic means as possible. The rules of the genre do not require live musical accompaniment; rap is mostly performed to the recorded beat, and reading the texts does not necessarily require high vocal skill. Given this limited artistic toolkit, great attention is paid to one thing: rap must rock. And what rocks is, as we all know, first of all, the rhythm and expressivity, and second, simple phrases which appeal to emotions. So rap lyrics are often superficial and use cliches.


Silvana is distinctive in terms of whom her cliches are addressed to and who understands them. Given the position of anti-systemic and anti-patriarchal criticism, it is doubtful that there is anything “generally accessible” or “generally understandable,” so every performer has their own audience.


Text by: Yosh

Read the full article here.