Poland, France, Ukraine


IN THE REARVIEW is an authentic, intimate observation of war as it unfolds, following multiple generations of Ukrainian civilians as they abruptly abandon their homes and rely on the help of director Maciek Hamela’s volunteer aid van to escape the life-threatening conflict. As he steers through minefields to leave Ukraine and tries to get through numerous military checkpoints, Hamela offers us a seat in his car, guiding the documentary from behind the wheel and behind the camera, crisscrossing the roads of Ukraine to transport uprooted refugees safely to Poland. The van traverses tens of thousands of kilometers and serves as a waiting room, hospital, shelter, and zone for confidences and confessions among compatriots thrown together by chance. In the Rearview is a collective portrait composed of an array of experiences of Ukrainians who share a single goal: finding a safe haven in the throes of conflict. With temporary asylum granted to all passengers, their differences in gender, age, skin tone, physical condition, origin, identity, worldviews and faith become irrelevant. While the war itself remains in the backdrop, its reflection and impact are evident and raw.

Director's Statement

I was born in Warsaw in the early 80s and was the first generation of Poles that were not forced to learn Russian in school. This is maybe why, after turning 18, I decided to learn Russian by myself and went to study Russian language in St. Petersburg. I wanted to read Nabokov and Dostoyevsky in their original language. I soon found out how distant my "literary" perception of Russia was from the reality I got acquainted with.

In 2013 the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, pressured by Russia, refused to sign an Association Agreement with the EU and hundreds of students came out on Maidan to protest. I had a feeling that this conflict is not only important for Ukraine itself but also for the entire region, including Poland, who was about to celebrate ten years of membership in the EU. I was about to turn 31 years old, and would usually throw a huge party at my Warsaw apartment on that day, but this time I thought the only adequate way to celebrate would be to take a train to Kiev and show solidarity with the protesters. I came to Ukraine to stay only for three days but ended up staying for three months and filming a documentary about the participants of the Maidan revolution.

The main protagonist of my film joined the Azov battalion to defend Mariupol and was taken prisoner by the Russian army in 2014. I spent a few years trying to find him but never succeeded. In the process, I forged my special attachment to Ukraine and its people as my life became entangled with its political history. This is why when Russia launched its full scale invasion on Ukraine I felt I could not stay uninvolved. I bought a van on the third day of the war and started transporting refugees from the Polish border. Within a week I bought another two vans and organized other buses to transport people arriving at the border crossings with Poland. It was not long before I was already driving in Ukraine bringing families of friends from Lviv, Kyiv, Cherkasy and other Ukrainian cities to the Polish border where they would be picked up by other drivers. Soon I was getting calls every day from people asking me to transport their family members. I also started working with international aid organizations helping with evacuating underprivileged people: foreigners, pregnant surrogate mothers and people with disabilities. My knowledge of Ukrainian and Russian languages enabled me to reach far out locations in the country and to efficiently organize accommodation and onward travels for all my passengers. During the first wave of refugees I almost did not sleep. The constant influx of people and phone calls gave me the impression that every hour counted.

That's when I realized I should be driving with a second driver and that's how the idea of the film was born. A documentary that would be subordinate to the evacuations, where the filming would be performed inside a car by a cameraman who would film during the day, and replace me as a driver during the night. I realized it would allow aid activities to be carried out the same way as before, and at the same time it would be possible to document the deteriorating situation of the civilian population of Ukraine subjected to terror. In the Rearview approaches the story without any post-factum commentary or layer of analysis with its protagonist being people who have decided to flee at the very moment. The intimate space of the van establishes room for frank conversations between driver and passengers about life, dreams, anxieties, plans and expectations. The car interior becomes a confessional for deeply emotional stories of war experience, told often for the very first time.

The documentary’s intention, along with presenting personal stories and experiences, is to show the landscape of the war taking place before our very eyes. Its course has exceeded the worst projections and the material, psychological, social and civilizational impact will extend for decades. The film is also a testimony to the enormous aid mobilization among Poles nationwide and our two countries’ historical rapprochement with a difficult mutual past.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Maciek Hamela

Written by: Maciek Hamela

Main Producer: Piotr Grawender, Maciek Hamela

Cinematography: Yura Dunay, Wawrzyniec Skoczylas, Marcin Sierakowski, Piotr Grawender

Editing: Piotr Oginski

Original Score: Antoni Komasa-Lazarkiewicz

Sound: Marcin Lenarczyk

Nominations and Awards

  • Documentary Selection 2023