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Driven by compassion and a compulsion for storytelling, Jaie Petty made the bold move of entering Ukraine’s active war zone to create a documentary. The director looks back on his project thus far FRONTLINE FILMMAKING
“I WAS SAT in my grandma’s house when the news about Ukraine broke. I thought, wars are happening all over the world, but this one was close enough I could actually help. So I phoned Chris Rogers, the DOP I create with most, and we were on a flight the next morning.” After landing in Poland, the duo headed straight to the border. Friends in the media provided a lay of the land, then it was straight down to action. “We rented a car and Chris drove over into Lviv. I wanted to go with him, but also saw the need to help refugees fleeing the country. They were coming across hundreds strong,” Petty remembers. “Chris and I started filming everything we responsibly could. We didn’t arrive with a subject in mind – we just knew we wanted to show the world what was happening, quickly realising the hardest-hitting issue was the struggle of the Ukrainian people.” As important as a visual record is in such historic moments, Petty remained wary of any potential negative impacts. The documentary was secondary, with tasks like
preparing food and transporting doctors occupying much of his time. “For a lot of our production activity, we used local fixers, partnering up with Radioaktive Film – the biggest production company in Ukraine – early on. With their help, we had access to a long chain of local people, who assisted our work and helped us find stories. We wanted to try and keep money in their economy.” After two weeks on the Polish side of the border, Petty knew he must reunite with Rogers in Ukraine. His timing couldn’t have been better. “A friend of mine had donated a minibus to a local charity and I’d collected it from the UK myself. When we arrived, we discovered the military had begun its first bombing of Lviv that morning. We drove in, picked up Chris and another reporter, and got them out of the city.” Two more months of providing assistance and collecting footage for the documentary ensued. Eventually returning to the UK, Petty and Rogers teamed up with production company Redeeming
Features, to put together all of the harrowing pieces they had collected. “We decided to angle the documentary around something that always bothered me. The war began and everyone started talking about the refugee problem, but nobody had actually looked at the macro scale of the refugees, like they’re humans. I really wanted to put a spotlight on that,” Petty explains. While kit seems like arbitrary minutiae within the context of a war, it is ultimately what makes the storytelling possible. Petty’s work is undeniably cinematic. Through this, it’s hoped that the message being carried is all the more impactful. “Working in a war zone is not the same as any other shoot,” Petty says. “I come from a commercial background – and this is the first feature documentary I’ve directed. So, we went out there with the kind of cameras we would usually have. They were small – which was a benefit – but we soon realised that something a bit more advanced was needed.
NEW WORLD With a history in commercial filmmaking, for Jaie Petty (above) this was the first foray into documentary
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