ⓘ Bitter Harvest (2017 film)
Bitter Harvest is a 2017 period romantic-drama film set in Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s. The film depicts the Holodomor, a genocide committed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin using food as a weapon through mass starvation as millions of Ukrainians died under forced collectivization of all farms and businesses owned by Ukrainians. The film stars Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Barry Pepper, Tamer Hassan and Terence Stamp.
The film was directed by George Mendeluk and was written by first time Canadian actor-screenwriter Richard Bachynsky Hoover, based on his own Ukraine Genocide Holodomor research. He was also credited as the executive producer, for arranging to have the films investor, Canadian-Ukrainian president of Generation Capital Ian Ihnatowycz, be the primary producer. The film used Kyiv crews, as well as locations and casting from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Cossack Ivan Kachanuik defends his family in the Central Ukraine countryside.
Years later, in 1932 in Smila Central Ukraine, Ivans artist grandson Yuri marries his childhood sweetheart, Natalka, and studies at the Kyiv Art Academy. His family are independent Cossack farmers, "kurkuli". They make a living from grain, sunflowers and other crops until Joseph Stalins collectivisation campaign sends the Soviet army to requisition 90% of Ukraines harvest.
The State Art Institute is forced to replace the art instructors with communist instructors who censor art such as Yuris, condemning its expression of Ukrainian cultural identity as anti Soviet. Yuri storms out in disgust.
During a memorial in a pub for a friend who committed suicide a drunk Soviet captain insults the Ukrainians folklore, music, songs, and dance, starting a fight during which Yuri stabs the captain. Yuri is locked up in a brutal Soviet prison with farmers and nationalists and others whom Stalin deems "enemies of the people". He witnesses daily mass executions and is in line for execution himself when the prison director demands he paint his portrait in return for his life. Yuri is sure the director will have him killed as soon as the portrait is completed. During their second sitting Yuri stabs the director with his paintbrush, killing him, and escapes in the directors uniform during a snow blizzard while being hunted by the Bolshevik soldier guards.
Meanwhile in Smila, Yuris wife and family are enduring the terror of farm director Commisar Sergei Koltsov. He attempts to rape Natalka and uses food as a weapon to control her but Natalka poisons his borscht with wild mushrooms. He survives as Natalka flees to joins the other peasant women. She plans a revolt which backfires and they are overpowered by the Bolshevik attack. Yuris family and the villagers are imprisoned and tortured in the local church that becomes a makeshift torture chamber and prison cell.
In the northern Kyivan forests Yuri helps Lubko, a young hungry orphan boy. They are joined at their camp by the Kholodnoyarska Ukrainian Cossack detachment. They plan an attack on the Bolsheviks and wind up in a bloody battle the next morning against the Bolsheviks gatling gunning down the uprising. Both sides suffer heavy casualties.
Yuri and Lubko survive and continue their journey towards Smila by sneaking aboard a cattle train full of starved Ukrainian corpses. They witness massive starvation and death of their fellow Ukrainians on the roadsides and in pits. Nearing Smila they hijack a loaded Soviet grain truck whose Bolshevik soldier driver immediately joins Yuris rescue mission, bringing grain to Yuris family and the villagers.
Yuri, Natalka, and Lubko escape, others of the family starve or are murdered by Koltsovs forces. They are pursued onto another cattle train of Ukrainian corpses on their way to be dumped into fire pits, and, jumping the train, are chased to the Soviet border, the cold and turbulent Zbruch River. They dodge bullets under water crossing to Polish-controlled West Ukraine to get to the city of Lviv, hoping for help from the priest Andrey Sheptytsky to exchange the vast rich pastures of Ukraine for the prairies of Manitoba, Canada.
Ukrainian Canadian actor and first time screenwriter and credited Executive producer Richard Bachynsky Hoover conceived the idea in 2004 and wrote the original rough draft screen play over the years off and on casually pacing it out and later in 2013 his final draft became the pillar of the films storyline when his backer Ian Ihnatowycz came on board as the sole financer producer for the film. During the writer actors subsequent research into his fathers Family roots and heritage, on his second visit to Ukraine, he joined the half million protesting activist in the Orange Revolution that year. A light flashed in his creative compassionate heart and mind that the Holodomor manmade famine waged by Stalin across Ukraine had yet to be dramatized in an English language feature film in order to be acknowledged by the global masses unaware of Ukraines 1932/33 genocide. In 2010 under now ousted Pro Russian Ukraine Holodomor Genocide denier Ex President Yanukovich gov.who fled to Russia 2014 Bachynsky Hoover sought financing for such a film from the Ukrainian Government and various Ukrainian oligarchs, who were not interested. In 2011, he approached fellow Ukrainian Canadian investor Ian Ihnatowycz, who kickstarted Richards screenplay research and its Development and eventually in 2013 committed to financing the $21 million film in its entirety.
Hoover said Inhatowycz was a "True Champ" at the Toronto TIFF venue gala screening, on March 3 2017, for all Ukrainians globally and for believing in his vision.
The film was originally titled The Devils Harvest. Filmed on location in Ukraine, the films cast includes Barry Pepper, Tamer Hassan and Terence Stamp. In his attempt to help uncover certain parts of Kremlin history, producer Ian Ihnatowycz stated, "Given the importance of the Holodomor, and that few outside Ukraine knew about this man-made famine because it had been covered up by the Kremlin regime, this chapter of history needed to be told in English on the silver screen for the first time in feature film history."
Filming began in Ukraine by November 15, 2013. On February 5, 2014, Variety reported that the shoot had just ended in Kiev. Several local crew including the Screenwriter Richard Bachynsky Hoover took part on the violent front lines in the simultaneously held Euromaidan demonstrations that resulted in more than one hundred protesters murdererd and several police killed in the process who supported the cleptocratc corrupt now ousted Yanukovich calling the attacks on the innocent protesters being tortured kidnapped and shot by police and hidden snipers.
In early 2014, post-production continued at Londons Pinewood Studios, using the official James Bond filming tank for under-water filming. Skyfall editor Stuart Baird and SFX teams worked on the film in post production.
The film was acquired by Roadside Attractions an Indy arm of Americas Lions Gate Films corp.for a 1st quarter 2017 US release. Roadside Attractions released the film in the US on February 24, 2017. "D" Films Canada will launch Bitter Harvest on March 3 in Canada as well as many other film distributors who have bought the rights for the film in major countries globally who will also launch the film during the first quarter of 2017.
4.1. Reception Box office
The final US box office sales were $5.570.241. Its widest release was in 127 theaters but screened in various venues in more than 100 countries in 2017/18
4.2. Reception Critical response
Bitter Harvest received generally negative reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 14% approval rating, based on 59 reviews. The consensus states, Bitter Harvest lives down to its title with a cliched wartime romance whose clumsy melodrama dishonors the victims of the real-life horrors it uses as a backdrop." Sheri Linden of the Los Angeles Times called the film "utterly devoid of emotional impact". Several reviews agreed that the film would raise awareness, but did not do justice to the subject matter, with Peter Debruge of Variety stating that "there can be no doubt that the events deserve a more compelling and responsible treatment than this." George Weigel of the National Review wrote that "the film, while perhaps not great cinema, succeeds in personalizing the Holodomor and reminding us that this genocide happened".
Michael OSullivan wrote for The Washington Post, "The Holodomor – an early 1930s famine in which millions of people in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, are said to have died when their foodstuffs were confiscated by the central Soviet government under Joseph Stalin – could have made for a tale of great, stirring tragedy on the silver screen. Bitter Harvest, alas, is not that movie." The Ukrainian American Coordinating Council UACC criticized OSullivans review for seeming to deny that the Holodomor was a man-made famine; The Washington Post later posted an editors note clarifying that the Holodomor was "an act of genocide", and parts of the review were re-written.
Among more positive reviews, Adrian Bryttan of The Ukrainian Weekly praised the film: "Director George Mendeluk is first and foremost a master director and Doug Milsome as a DOP as well Kinfston born Canadian Richard Bachynsky Hoover is a master storyteller in his screenplay writing, breathing vivid life into the nuanced characters in their epic-romance. Richly layered and rewarding repeated viewings, Bitter Harvest is the world-class Ukrainian art film of our time." The Sydney Morning Herald called the film "a rousing tale with political pertinence".