“Bitter Harvest”: drama shows the Holodomor in the Ukraine in the 1930s

Bitter Harvest”, from German director George Mendeluk, does seem at first like a stock “conservative” film, out to prove that communist Stalin (Gary Oliver) was every bit as much a monster as Hitler. The film depicts a historical fiction (story by Richard Bachynsky Hoover) escape by a likeable artist Yuri (Max Irons), protecting his family, literally swimming underwater a border river into Poland, from the Ukraine in 1933, to escape the Soviet-Ukraine Holodomor.

On a certain moral level, the film is timely given today’s controversy over illegal border crossings and asylum. It also seems reflectively pertinent given Valdimir Putin’s preoccupation with nationalistic expansion into Ukraine in the past two years.

As the film opens, Yuri gives a little history, about how the Bolshevist revolution had at first freed Ukraine peasants from the czars, only to be undone with the Soviet Union and with Stalin’s plans to expropriate land and agricultural output from the farmers (apparently temporarily in private hands, giving them freedom) to feed factory workers. The film depicts Soviet soldiers storming into farms, seizing lands and demanding, at gunpoint, that farmers join collectives.

Yuri escapes, so to speak, to Kiev to go to art school, where his work is soon criticized for not being politically correct enough. (This is what happened to composer Dmitri Shostakovich for a while.) There are some lines about whether artists view themselves as elite and privileged about the mores of ordinary proles.

At this point, let me say the script is often a bit corny (it may be translated for English), but the political carnage becomes more believable and compelling as the film progresses. Yui winds up in jail, but uses his artistic (and hand-to-hand combat) talents to escape prison and get back home to help the family escape the famine.

I can relate the ferocity of the extreme left from some personal experiences back in 1972, when a radical meeting expressed the need to eliminate all inherited wealth (which is how the commies seized land). Yuri has no real moral dilemma (as would I) over whether to join a counter mass-movement.  But it’s ironic that Ukraine’s own movement is also communist, but somehow “fairer”.

The early scenes in the film (shot in flat areas in Ukraine) look rustic, with people living simple lives without electricity (there are a few cars).

Ukraine landscape similar to film (Wikipedia).

Name: Bitter Harvest
Director, writer:  George Mendeluk
Released:  2016/10
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2017/3/7, afternoon, small audience
Length:  103
Rating:  R
Companies:  Roadside Attractions
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, March 6, 2017 at 8:30 PM EST)

“Occupy Unmasked”: documentary work of Stephen K. Bannon, White House strategist and campaign manager for Donald Trump

Stephen K. Bannon is now President-elect Donald J. Trump’s appointed Chief Strategist for the White House (as of Jan. 20), and was the CEO of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and has been an executive at Breitbart News.  His activities and associations are described by others as “alt-right” or “far-right”. And he has been described as a filmmaker.  So I wondered what his films look like.  Ii checked, and found I had seen “The Steam Experiment”, which he had produced (see Index).

So I looked for a film he had directed, too, and there’s not a lot available.  But Amazon offered his 2012 76-minute documentary “Occupy Unmasked” for $3.99.

The film does come across as a bit of a rant in its non-stop chatter castigating the Occupy movement. But a lot of what it says is probably true.  And there was nothing in the film hateful or phobic of individual people over race, gender or sexuality issues.

The film maintains that the series of camp-outs that would morph into Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC got started in the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  I had never heard that “rumor” myself (is it “fake”?)  I drove through or near the area in a rented car in February 2006.  A church group sent volunteers down to help the residents, and the volunteers were not allowed to do much because of mold.

The film also talks about Anonymous, and claims it targets individual capitalists and marks them for attack by hacking their work.  I’m really not aware that this happens to people just because they are “rich” or able to make a good living or are even visible in a reasonable manner.

The film turns into an indictment of the radical Left.  It traces some history back to the New Deal, and to Mafia involvement with labor unions after Prohibition ended.  It does mention some of the more vigorous (sometimes violent) organizations of the far Left in the 1960s and 1970s, like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen.  The film was made before Black Lives Matter came into being (after Ferguson in 2014), so I wonder if Bannon imagines updating the film to cover that.

The attitude of the radical Left is depicted as saying something like “Capitalism is slavery” and as nihilistic, trying to destroy the idea of “unearned wealth” with no plan of anything to replace it with other than authoritarianism – that is, extreme Communism.  That goes beyond what happened in the Soviet Union to the more radical Communist China and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, Maoism, where every intellectual took his turn becoming a peasant. It also led to groups like the Khmer Rouge and now to North Korea (although that history has some other factors related to Japan).  The far Left is depicted as hating rich white people – yet it shows Michael Moore’s vacation home.

My own experience with the radical Left settled out in December 1972, when I “spied” on an activist meeting of The People’s Party of New Jersey in a drafty rowhouse in Newark, NJ, and listened to their proposals:  limit incomes to $50000 a year (no Trumps), mass expropriation by force, abolish all inheritances, use revolution and violence if it becomes necessary.  I never had contact with them again.

The film opens with some of the summer 2011 debate over the debt ceiling, which it never connects well to the rest of the movie.  Republicans are shown as claiming we don’t have the money to pay the country’s bills, and Democrats claim seniors will go without social security.  It is true, the debt ceiling is about authorization to pay bills the US has already ratcheted up, not new spending (see this ).

Andrew Breitbart does appear in the film, but he died at age 43 suddenly in early 2012 of cardiomyopathy.

The film is in three parts, with titles like “The issue is not the issue” and “structured chaos” (or “organized chaos”, which is how a somewhat conservative local pastor describes a monthly community assistance program in Arlington VA — with “mental illness” thrown in as a major explanation of systemic poverty).

Name:  “Occupy Unmasked
Director, writer:  Stephen K. Bannon
Released:  2012
Format:  1.85;1
When and how viewed:  Amazon instant, 2017/1/8
Length:  76
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Citizens United; Magnolia Pictures, Magnet, Amazon
Link:  official

Wikipedia lower ninth ward destruction picture.

Posted Monday, January 9, 2017 at 11 AM EST

Picture of tent is in December 2011 in Washington DC near McPherson Square, taken by me.  One time when I took a picture of the camp, a man called out to me and chased me down K Street, saying, “I’m speaking to you.”  Is this the “No spectators” idea?