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Almost Holy

The film under the title “Almost Holy” had been made by the titled cinematographers among whom there is Terrence Malik ( thrice Oscar nominee and the holder of” the golden palm” at Cannes). The composer Atticus Ross has got an Oscar and the most authoritative in musical circles award “Grammy”. The sound editor who worked in Mariupol for a few weeks is from the film crew of the well known movie “ Shawshank redemption” (with 7 nominees for Oscar). The director of the film – Steve Hoover is a winner of a very prestigious film festival “Sundance”. ...

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Steve Hoover: “Almost Holy” is a film about the activist who does whatever is possible in the collapsed system

  “Almost Holy” or “ Crocodile Gennadiy”  is a film about the Mariupol priest Gennadiy Mokhnenko who saves homeless children giving them a place to stay and a chance to start their life afresh. For more than 2 years the film had been made by perhaps the most titled crew of documentalists who ever came to Ukraine. The executive producer of the movie is Terrence Malick having the golden palm in Cannes, the composer – the Oscar winner Atticus Ross, the sound editor George Simpson was also working in the movie “The Shawshenk Redemption” and “Dogma”.

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Review: ‘Almost Holy’ Demonstrates a Pastor’s Tough Love for Street Kids in Ukraine

A good example of how a charismatic figure doesn’t automatically generate a deep or compelling documentary, “Almost Holy” follows the efforts of Gennadiy Mokhnenko, a pastor in Ukraine. He snatches homeless children off the streets — many are addicts — and takes them to Pilgrim Republic, the rehabilitation center he founded in the city of Mariupol. According to Mr. Mokhnenko, the home sometimes functions as a prison, sometimes as a hospital. Seeing a proliferation of street kids, drug use, domestic abuse and AIDS following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Mokhnenko, who likens himself to a caring animated character in a Russian children’s movie, takes initiative without authority. He has even adopted some of the children.

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«Almost Holy» in Ukraine.

Within the cinematographic festival Dokufest, the premiere of the film about the head of the charity fund “Pilgrim” and pastor of the Church of Good Changes, Gennadiy Mokhnenko, had a great success.   The film under the title "Almost Holy» had been made for 2 years by the titled cinematographers. Among them there are Terrence Malik (three-time Oscar nominee and winner of the “Golden Palm” in Cannes), the composer Atticus Ross has an Oscar and the most authoritative in musical world Grammy award. The sound editor of the film who worked in Mariupol for a few weeks, used to be one of the soundmen in the team of the famous “The Shawshank redemption” (with 7 Oscar nominees). The director of the film – Steve Hoover is a winner of the very prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

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The Grand – Prix of “Art Doc Fest” was given to the film “Crocodile Gennadiy”

 The documentary “ Crocodile Gennadiy” of the American director Steve Hoover was given the main award of the festival of author documentary films “ ArtDocFest” that was over in St Petersburg in the 16th of December. Let us remind you that for the first time the renowned American cinematographers came to Mariupol in 2012 when they got to know about the social work carried out by the pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko and his team in the charity fund “Pilgrim”. The work aimed to help street kids, to fight with drug addiction and injustice in lives of many people startled them. According to the director Steve Hoover, he and his team realized that it was obvious that the whole world needs to get to know about this work. The cinematographers had been working at the 90 minute film for 3 years.  First 20 days of shooting, they never left the main character for a moment and made a coverage of every moment of his life in all its polyhedral forms. They witnessed some shocking stories of people they met there and shot each and single step in order to make it a full picture afterwards to be screened in theatres.  In late 2015 the film was shown in Russia and made quite an impact.

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The world premiere of the film about the pastor from Mariupol took place at the American film festival in New York.

  It is worth mentioning that among the American documentary makers who had worked over the project ”Crocodile Gennadiy” for 2 and a half years there were George Simpson, famous for its work at the movies “ Shawshenk Redemption”, “ Dogma”, the winner of the prestigious "Sundance Film Festival» Steve Hoover, the Grammy winner Atticus Ross and other famous cinematographers.   Gennadiy Mokhnenko is a senior pastor of the Church of Good Changes in Mariupol, the founder of the largest children’s rehab center at the territory of the former USSR and he is also an adoptive father of 32 kids. The Tribecca Festival was founded in 2002 by Robert de Niro, Jane Rosental and Craig Hatcoff to reestablish business and social activity of the Down Manhattan that suffered most of all from the terroristic attacks, in particular the Tribecca area.

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The world premiere of the film about pastor “Crocodile Gennadiy”

  On April 16th in New York, the US at one of the largest documentary festivals Tribeca Film Festival  the long -awaited premiere of the documentary movie «Crocodile Gennadiy» will take place. This film will show the whole world society about social work of Mariupol Charity Fund  "Pilgrim" and ist leader, pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, adoptive father of over 30 kids.     For the first time the American cinematographers had arrived in Mariupol in 2012 when they got to know about the social work Pastor Gennadiy and his team has been accomplishing in the charity fund „Pilgrim“. The work aimed to fight against drug addiction, street life of kids, injustice in life of many people, had amazed them. According to the director Steven Hoover, he and his team realized that it was necessary fort he whole world tob e able to get to know about this work.  It took them 2 years to make a -90-minute- film. At one of their trips the crew was following the main character for 20 days and they never left him along, they were filming every single moment of his day routine. They were witnessing the shocking stories of the people, heard the testimonies of those whose lives radically changed to the better, they were filming absolutely everything  in order to be able to put it together in one unified picture after analyzing the whole filmed stuff and to show it on the screen.   

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“Almost Holy” or “ Crocodile Gennadiy”  is a film about the Mariupol priest Gennadiy Mokhnenko who saves homeless children giving them a place to stay and a chance to start their life afresh.

For more than 2 years the film had been made by perhaps the most titled crew of documentalists who ever came to Ukraine. The executive producer of the movie is Terrence Malick having the golden palm in Cannes, the composer – the Oscar winner Atticus Ross, the sound editor George Simpson was also working in the movie “The Shawshenk Redemption” and “Dogma”.

 

And Steve Hoover himself – is a winner of the prestigious Sundance Film festival (he got the grand- prix and the people’s choice award for his film “The Blood brother”).

 Within a few month after the start of screening “Almost Holy’ got   the Grand Prix in the Russian festival of auteur documentary film “ArtDocFest” and topped the list of the most influential films of the year in the world according to the international organization Social Impact Media Awards (SIMA), it also collected a full house at the International festival of films about human rights DocuDays UA.

LB.ua spoke to Steve Hoover about the film “Almost Holy” which is screened now within the program Docu/Hit.

“Almost Holy” is not the first film about Gennadiy Mokhnenko. How did you meet the main character of your film?

 My friends who made a video with him for their project in Ukraine told me about him. They suggested me to make a film about him. After seeing the footage they made about him I felt that Gennadiy’s story is a big subject for the documentary.  He impacted his city so much. I think that he challenges prejudices in many aspects and he can make prompt people to think. It seemed to me I perceived him differently, not as it was written about him in the Mass Media.

 

Why did you decide to change the title of the film from “Crocodile Gennadiy” into “Almost Holy”?

 I was choosing between “Almost Holy” and “Crocodile Gennadiy” when the film was close to its completion.

 “Crocodile Gennadiy” makes a definite sense to those who are from the former USSR but for the western audience this title wouldn’t make sense until they watch the film. Besides, many people just could not pronounce this title so they simply called it “The Crocodile movie”. We had an opportunity to rename it so we did it and the film got a title “Almost Holy”.

 

 

The film “Almost Holy” was screened in Ukraine, Russia and the USA. What was the reaction of the audience on the film in different countries?

 The reaction on the film in the US differs much from what they say in Ukraine and in Russia. There are many nuances in the film that are hard to understand for western audience since they don’t know all the cultural background. Many Americans who watch the film can’t get the political intensity in Ukraine and the fact that Gennadiy embodies the dilemma that many Ukrainians face.

 I wasn’t present at the screening of the film in Russia but the reaction there was very positive.

 We even got the Grand Prix at the ArtDocFest in Moscow.

 

 

I think that the Russians and the Ukrainians perceive the “Almost Holy” under the influence of a peculiar political predisposition. The film doesn’t intend to be a piece of propaganda but the intensity that is present in the film can be felt.

 “Almost holy” - is a film about an activist and public figure who does whatever he can in the broken system. To be able to understand Gennadiy you should realize that everything that goes on around him ultimately impacts everything he does.

 It is a big honor for me that the film was seen in Ukraine and Russia. It is to big extent what I was making the film for.

 What scenes were not included in the film?

 There are so many archive videos, hours of interview and other stories that are not in the film. To reduce the film that was a real challenge, since we did not deal with a script but with the real life. I was interested in working with Gennadiy.  I felt that his motives will be comprehended better through what he says and how he interacts with other people he tried to help. I always explain that my film is not a full prospective on Gennadiy. But it is the prospective on what I found interesting in him and in the city he loves so much.

Gennadiy gave us a huge access to his life and work. He gave us an access to the archive footage and let us made footage of the personal details of his work.  We managed to take video of the most sincere moments when the door of his office was closed and he spoke to the people he was trying to help.

 

 Personally I wouldn’t want anyone to make a video of my life. For when you let to make the video about you, you become very vulnerable; it is hard to hide your demerits.

 

I don’t know Gennadiy very closely but when I asked him if the film reflects his personality precisely he said: Steve, it is a real documentary, I would not change anything”. He had been in front of cameras and in Mass Media for a long time before I started making the film this is why the presence of camera in front of him didn’t influence him in any way.

 

 

Did you have any stereotypes and expectations when you were coming to Ukraine? And did they change within 2 years of work over the film?

 I had never been to Ukraine before the shooting so I didn’t know what to expect. I did what I could to get prepared, explored the city in advance but it never can prepare you to the actual experience. I like the industrial background, seaside, people and countryside. Mariupol is a beautiful place. People who live in it have gone through much. Even though I watched the most of the conflict from afar I felt very much connected to people and events in Ukraine. Definitely my perception of the events had been changing during the whole shooting process. At one point my life was under the threat and I thought I could die in Ukraine. This experience and events, incredible experience of making the film gave me a very deep connection with and love to Ukraine.

 

As a documentalist do you feel difference in the work in the US and in any other country?

 It is my sophomore film made in other country. I think that it would be much easier to make a film in the inner market, in the USA. But I think that cinematography is a hard work and each project is valuable by the unique challenges you put in front of you.

 You showed “Almost holy” In March at the Docudays UA. Did you get to see any Ukrainian films?

 

 I had a great experience of the participation in the Docudays. I met many incredible directors and I hope to come back. One of my favorite movies, by the way, is “Tribe” by Myroslav Slabospytskyi.

 

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