Zina Poletz Gutmanis

On Thursday, Nov 30, more than 150 people gathered for the private premiere of “Holodomor: Minnesota Memories of Genocide in Ukraine,” at The Main Cinema along the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

First-time writer/director Zina Poletz Gutmanis greeted people in the lobby, many of whom had a personal connection to the making of the film. The 30-minute documentary was produced cooperatively with funding from the Minnesota Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund by three local Ukrainian churches: St. Michael’s and St. George’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church, and St. Katherine Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Notwithstanding the horrific subject of genocide in Ukraine and the Holodomor, the mood at the theater was uplifting, as those attending celebrated the successful outcome of more than two years of community collaboration.

Following the screening, emcee Oleksiy Khrystych, grandson of a Holodomor survivor, conducted a Q&A with Gutmanis, after which those in the auditorium were invited to continue the discussion at a reception.

Q & A with Zina Poletz Gutmanis

What led you to make this film?

Growing up in Minneapolis in the 1970s and 80s, I was surrounded by Holodomor survivors and did not know it. We didn’t study the Holodomor in Ukrainian Saturday school and people never spoke of their personal experiences in front of me. It seemed like a remote, horrific event that happened to some people, somewhere, long ago. I was in my 50’s before I learned that my grandmother’s family barely made it through 1932-33.

In this ninetieth anniversary year, I wanted to spotlight the stories of individual people and explore how the memory of living through genocide is transmitted within a family and a community over time. Ninety years is a long time but we have at least one child survivor still living in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  It was important to me to show viewers that Holodomor victims and survivors were regular people, just like me and you – with names, families, and hopes and dreams for the future. I wanted us to see them as human beings, with dignity and compassion.

You worked with a historian. What was that like?

Amazing. Bohdan Klid, PhD was our film’s research adviser. Dr. Klid is the Director of Research at the Holodomor Research & Education Consortium (HREC), Center of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta. I was pretty new to history and he provided regular guidance and feedback from the very earliest stages of my research, reviewing early drafts of the script all the way through to the end, to ensure historical accuracy. HREC staff, including Marta Baziuk and Sophia Isajiw, viewed early versions of the film and provided valuable feedback on selecting images that were of the era.  I am really grateful to HREC for their support and should also mention that I was a HREC grant recipient in 2020 to support my research on Holodomor commemoration.

I also worked with Halyna Myroniuk, a retired archivist who spent much of her 40-year career at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center cataloguing its extensive Ukrainian collection. Without her assistance in locating key documents and photos, it would have been like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

What surprised you about making this film?

I didn’t know that in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ukrainians in Minneapolis conducted a cultural diplomacy campaign to educate civic leaders about and advocate for starving Ukrainian farmers. They held dance and choir concerts across the state and would give a short lecture before each concert. In the 1950s after the immigration of Ukrainian Displaced Persons, Minnesota Ukrainians once again worked to call the public’s attention to the evils of the Soviet Union’s implementation of the Holodomor. They held public protests and purchased TV programming time to hold live panel discussions with survivors. They also raised money to print and distribute copies of Holodomor survivor narratives to lawmakers and public libraries. One of those books, “The Golgotha of Ukraine,” was by Dmytro Solovey of St. Paul.

What else do you want people to know?

Aside from Dr. Klid, the people who appear in the film are members of our local Ukrainian churches, not media-trained professionals or actors. However, many professional people behind the scenes ensured the film’s high production values. Narrator Zorianna Kit is a well-known TV personality and producer in Los Angeles. Orchestration and the original score were by Natalia Peterson, a talented local composer, actor and author.

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