Artistic expression is not a luxury, it is a necessity. The film Branded proves that.

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BRANDED ЗАТАВРОВАНА is a Ukrainian British narrative feature film - with the voices of Kateryna Polishchuk (Ptashka of Azovstal) a Mariupol siege survivor, a soldier and POW Captured and imprisoned by the Russians for four months, released on a prisoner exchange programme. The second voice in the film is and Nazar Grabar, also a soldier and Ukrainian war hero. A Ukrainian film with English subtitles.

As we are in the third year of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, my film Branded, a British-Ukrainian production, begins its UK tour.

The script for the film was written in 2021, during the rapid take-over of Afghanistan by the Taliban. Watching the US pull out of Kabul, I was thinking what happens to the women and girls who have lived in a free society for the past twenty years and, what happens to the artists, the poets, the singers, and musicians?

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I have worked in freedom for thirty years, without fear of reprisals for the work I have made. I wrote the script from this perspective; I am the Artist, arrested by a repressive regime, thrown into a prison cell, and what would I be thinking? My life is over, my work is forgotten, is this the end of Art?

Branded. - Ukrainian British filmBranded. - Ukrainian British film
Branded. - Ukrainian British film

The film was originally made in English. Jason McCue, a Human Rights lawyer, watched the film and asked if he could screen it in Kyiv, when he launched his campaign PayBack4Ukraine. His colleague Jane Alieva had an idea and introduced me to Kateryna Polishchuk, known as the Ptashka, or Bird, of Azovstal, a defender of Ukraine. Kateryna’s voice would replace mine in the film.

Before February 2022, Kateryna was a singer, who then joined the Ukrainian army. She was captured by the Russians in Mariupol and became a Prisoner of War. The Russians killed her fiancée, her friends: she endured the hardships of imprisonment. Singing to her brothers and sisters in arms helped to maintain her spirit. She was released on a prisoner exchange after four months, at 21 years of age.

And then, Kateryna returned to the frontline.

Kateryna had watched the English version of the film and wanted to work with me. She had never performed or acted before. I was concerned her young age and voice would be an odd mix with me an older woman as the prisoner in the cell. But the first time I heard her speak, on a Zoom call, she was wearing her uniform, sitting in a Landcruiser somewhere in the Donbas region, and I heard the gravitas of her experience in her voice. This young woman carried the weight of the Earth on her shoulders. It made me cry. She would be the voice of the Artist in the prison cell. Jane’s idea of combining Kateryna’s voice with my performance was poetic.

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Branded at Cameo Cinema 18th AprilBranded at Cameo Cinema 18th April
Branded at Cameo Cinema 18th April

The second voice actor is a young man, Nazar Grabar. Before 24 February 2022, Nazar Grabar was a professional dancer, actor, and model. His brother, Ilya, was a musician. They both immediately joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Ilya Grabar died defending his country on the same day as Nazar was wounded. Nazar Grabar is the voice of Francis Bacon in the film.

In July 2023, Kateryna and Nazar Grabar travelled with Jane to Kyiv where they were recorded at Mart Studios. I was listening in on a Zoom call. Kateryna’s performance in the film is heart-breaking. She brings her real-life experience to the film. Every part of her being went into her performance. If there is an Oscar award for this, it belongs to Kateryna. It was apparent to us all that this young woman was re-living the hell she had been through and pouring it all into every word. After the intensity in the studio, two days of recording the script, Kateryna beautifully sang the theme song, “Children of the Brave”.

The film was edited in London by Natasha Westlake, adding the new Ukrainian audio to the original film. I sent a link of the finished film to Kateryna; reading her response, I knew the work we had done was vital and important.

Here is a translated and abridged version:

Branded at Cameo Cinema 18th AprilBranded at Cameo Cinema 18th April
Branded at Cameo Cinema 18th April

“…I am sincerely grateful that you adapted your film and told the story of Ukrainian Artists. I watched with trembling, reliving every second of the film, every second of my imprisonment in Russia. I am sincerely grateful, the world should know about us, about Artists who love their country, Art, and the world, about the monster who destroys our bodies, but cannot and will never be able to destroy Art. The Art of love, patriotism, beauty, and soul. I thank you on behalf of all prisoners of war and politically convicted Ukrainians, on behalf of all fighters for life. What you have done for my country. The world should see through your eyes. Russia destroyed my life, body, mind, it will not destroy our spirit and our freedom. I have no more words. I have only tears and the warmth of my wounded heart.”

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Branded was written as an expression of support for Artists and freedom fighters who are confined by repressive regimes where they are censored, imprisoned, tortured, or killed for expressing their voices in painting, writing or music. A homage to Artists who have been murdered for their Art and for all those who are trapped in a regime where creativity and freedom is stifled, or illegal.

Artistic expression is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Repression of self-expression is a corruption of Human Nature, and I cannot accept that.

Branded A Ukrainian British production

Article - Pauline Amos

Preview screenings

Cameo cinema Edinburgh 18th April

Robert Burns Centre Dumfries 19th April

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