EntertainmentIndomitable: Sonia Lowman's film highlights ongoing Ukrainian crisis

Indomitable: Sonia Lowman's film highlights ongoing Ukrainian crisis

The short film "Indomitable" is being shown at Justice Film Festival.
The short film "Indomitable" is being shown at Justice Film Festival.
Images source: © justicefilmfest.com
10:31 AM EST, March 2, 2024

“Many people in America think that the war in Ukraine has already ended. My film reminds them that help is still needed,” says American documentary filmmaker Sonia Lowman.

Sonia Lowman is a young American documentary filmmaker. In her projects, she frequently tackles difficult socio-political issues and often visits areas of significant humanitarian crises around the globe. Her latest film, "Indomitable", recently premiered at the esteemed New York Justice Film Festival, known for specializing in human rights films. With this premiere, Lowman's documentary embarks on a global festival tour, and the director hopes it will soon be shown in Poland.

The film’s narrative begins with the story of a hospital in Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine near the Belarusian border. The Russian army attacked the city at the onset of the war, causing severe damage to the hospital. The facility's operations were consequently moved to underground shelters beneath the building.

Sonia Lowman: The remarkable duality of life there. In Kyiv and Chernihiv, people tried to maintain normalcy - working and socializing in cafes. Yet, the moment sirens blared, they would abandon this semblance of a normal life and seek refuge in basements, reminiscent of World War II shelters. It felt surreal, almost schizophrenic. Their resilience and determination to preserve a sense of normalcy were remarkable. Upon returning to the States, this contrast took on an entirely new meaning for me.

How was that?

Adjusting back to the calm, safe, predictable life in California was challenging. I kept reflecting on the daily turmoil faced by those in Ukraine, striving to make their lives bearable amidst the chaos. The stark contrast to the idyllic, seemingly unaffected life in America was heart-wrenching. It felt almost surreal returning to my comfortable existence.

How is this war perceived in America?

The perception is sadly fragmented, reflecting the deep divisions within the country. There’s no unified support for Ukraine, which is distressing. The narrative largely depends on the media outlet one chooses to follow, with different stations painting vastly divergent pictures of reality, both domestically and internationally.

What inspired your Ukrainian project?

I’ve always been drawn to themes of war, trauma, and exclusion, having previously worked on projects with African-American communities in the States, and visited Sudan among other locations facing humanitarian crises. The attack on Ukraine prompted me to explore this conflict. I sought a compelling angle that could convey the urgency and depth of the situation.

How did you end up starting in Chernihiv?

Sonia Lowman is a documentary filmmaker.
Sonia Lowman is a documentary filmmaker.© Getty Images | Ray Tamarra

An American charity working to support Ukrainians since the invasion suggested focusing on the hospital. This idea, unknown to me then, provided a powerful entry point for the story I wanted to tell.

Can you describe your journey to Chernihiv?

It coincided almost exactly with the anniversary of the invasion, taking four days of travel from the relative calm of Kyiv to the palpable war atmosphere of Chernihiv. Each checkpoint and military presence along the way intensified the feeling of entering a war zone.

What was your impression of Chernihiv?

Despite a temporary calm during my visit, the scars of war were evident. The hospital's tale, with staff and patients seeking refuge in basements, was particularly moving. The darkness there symbolized a broader struggle against oppressive forces, awaiting liberation into light.

Your film shifted focus during production. How?

Initially centered around the hospital's role during the conflict, it evolved to address the broader theme of national psychological trauma. This shift highlighted the complexity and depth of the mental health crisis inflicted by the war, becoming the film's central narrative.

You mentioned a poignant scene with a doctor. Could you elaborate?

This doctor’s insights on the universal psychological impact of the war in Ukraine opened my eyes to the necessity of addressing mental health. This led to a broader exploration of the psychological state of an entire nation struggling under the weight of continuous conflict.

How has public sentiment in Ukraine evolved?

My initial visit coincided with a wave of optimism regarding military advances and international support, fostering a sense of unity and hope. However, the current mood reflects a palpable sense of abandonment, with many questioning international support and interest in their plight.

Does the possibility of decreased aid from the US relate to political changes there?

Those who understand Ukraine's needs are unlikely to support figures who advocate reducing aid. While domestic issues and isolationist tendencies gain traction in the US, the focus shifts away from Ukraine, potentially endangering support at a critical time. My film aims to counter this narrative, urging policymakers to continue their support for Ukraine.

What projects are you working on now?

My focus remains on depicting strong women confronting challenges on various frontlines, including a doctor in the Gaza Strip, an activist in Venezuela, and a young woman in Somalia battling climate change. This thematic direction continues to inspire my work, including an upcoming project set in Afghanistan addressing women's issues.

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