Film symposium this week showcases nearly a century of Ukrainian cinema


After two years of pandemic-altered circumstances, Pitt’s long-running film symposium returns to campus with a timely focus on Ukrainian cinema as that country grapples in real time with an ongoing invasion of Russian forces.

Pitt presents the 23rd symposium, “Archives as New Artifacts: Ukraine Screens Its Own Cinema (1929-2020),” from May 12 to May 14, providing an opportunity to experience a near-century of Ukrainian cinema, including selections from the early 20th century rarely seen in the U.S. Formerly the “Russian Film Symposium,” the event and website were changed following the February invasion to New East Cinema, with Ukrainian films and auteurs this year’s special theme.

Featuring Ivan Kozlenko and Stanislav Menzelevskyi, distinguished guests from the Ukrainian State Film Archives, the event showcases 11 films at the 332 Cathedral of Learning  (for 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. showings), and Frick Fine Arts Auditorium (for 7 p.m. shows). All films are free and provide English subtitles.

Symposium co-coordinator Nancy Condee, director of Pitt’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, sees the event as a unique opportunity to immerse in cinematic as well as political history as Ukraine fights against an unprovoked invasion.

“We are hopeful that the diverse Pittsburgh communities who are curious about Ukraine, rare cinema or cultural politics more broadly will come,” she says, “not only to see the films, but also for the unique opportunity to hear a leading Ukrainian expert introduce the films, contextualize them for us and encourage our discussions and questions.

“Of course, we do not wish that the unfolding crisis would foster anything except a just peace,” she adds, “but we see the event as providing a ‘witnessing community’ to Ukrainian culture at a critical moment of its nation formation in real time, day by day.” Because of the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, she admits logistics have been “extraordinarily challenging.”

“Since early January, we have met nearly each Sunday evening for dinner and planning,” Condee says of the symposium team comprising Ukrainian and Russian volunteers along with a “motley crew” from Pitt and four other universities, including Dickinson, Indiana University–Bloomington, Penn State and William & Mary.

“We share a common spirit of support for the Ukrainian citizens, who now comprise nearly 6 million refugees,” Condee notes.

The symposium includes a fundraiser for Kyiv’s Dovzhenko Center. To donate to benefit those in war-torn Ukraine, visit

From 1999 to 2021, the Russian Film Symposium screened 366 Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian and Central Asian films at Pitt and four local venues. The 2020 symposium was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In November 2021, the traditionally spring event switched to fall, with a virtual, mini symposium called “Queer Taxonomies: Gender and New Post-Soviet Cinema.”

Condee has been involved since the symposium’s inception, along with lead organizer Vladimir Padunov from Pitt’s Slavic Languages and Literatures department and Film & Media Studies Program. Padunov retires from Pitt this month, making this the last symposium with his full involvement.

“I anticipate continuing the project,” Condee says, “which is partly a practicum and partly mad volunteer enthusiasm.”

Noting the vulnerability of film-based artifacts, particularly during a time of Russian invasion, Condee stresses the importance of outsiders to offer a “witnessing committee.”  

“Film is an art historically experienced in a hall together,” she says. “We invite the audience to realize that, as we share this event, we are doing so as a witnessing community to encourage interest in this unique and largely unexamined legacy. We know little about Ukrainian cinema beyond Oleksandr Dovzhenko, director of ‘Earth.’” The film ‘Here’ provides “a chance to think new thoughts and to talk with a leading Kyiv intellectual who lives and breathes this field.”

Registration is required for all attending screenings on Pitt's campus. For registration and further information, visit

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at


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