Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine is an intimate look at the war and revolution in Ukraine through the eyes of ordinary people who risked their lives to create a more democratic, equitable, and independent country.
Our principal characters are a children’s theater director, a doctor, a rabbi, a TV journalist, an investigative reporter, and a lawyer turned medic and her soldier husband.
Their lives were transformed by the tumultuous, three-month revolution on the Maidan, which ended in the death of 123 protestors and the flight of corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych.
When Russia retaliated by annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine, our subjects went to war to defend and remake their country. Our film depicts this intense and on-going struggle, which has so far killed 10,000 Ukrainians and displaced 1.9 million refugees.
Breaking Point is the dramatic and inspiring portrait of people willing to give up their private, normal lives to unite in a collective effort to bring the rule of law and democracy to their country. Their battle to wrest power from the autocrats and plutocrats who control their governments is a struggle that is being waged around the world, from the Mideast to America. The outcome affects not only the future of Ukraine, but the future of democracy throughout the world.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT – Mark Jonathan Harris
If I were to choose one image that captures the essence BREAKING POINT, it would be Eva Yanchenko, illuminated by the fires on the Maidan, Kyiv’s Independence Square, embracing an anonymous figure in the midst of the February battles. A lawyer turned medic during the tumultuous events in Ukraine, who then joined her husband in the war against Russia in the East, Eva Yanchenko embodies the courage and commitment of thousands of ordinary people fighting for democracy in Ukraine.
As Sergei Loiko, Moscow correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, says in the film, “The war is the armed continuation of the Maidan revolution…the spirit of the Maidan at war.” Loiko came to Kyiv on assignment, planning to stay for only a few days, and was so impressed by what he witnessed that he ended up devoting two years of his life to covering the revolution and the war.
BREAKING POINT is the story of these dramatic events as seen through the eyes of several people whose lives were changed forever by their experiences: a children’s theater director, a doctor, a soldier, a rabbi, a TV journalist, and an investigative reporter. All risked their lives to create a more democratic and equitable Ukraine.
From my earliest days as a filmmaker, I’ve been drawn to stories of people battling injustice and oppression. The first significant documentary I made, Huelga!, chronicled the grape strike in Delano, California, and Cesar Chavez’s efforts to win the right of collective bargaining for farmworkers. I saw then how powerful it can be when people join together to transform their lives. The same transformation took place during the Maidan Revolution and the war that continues today, despite the ceasefire agreement that Russia continually violates.
Although events in Ukraine may seem of little importance to those of us living in the West, I hope the film will demonstrate why we should be concerned about the struggle. As the experts in our documentary point out, it’s not just the future of democracy in Ukraine that’s at stake; it’s also the future of democracy in Europe, which Putin is working vigorously to undermine. The film explores some of the propaganda and disinformation techniques Russia is using to create disunity and destabilize Western governments, at a time when democracies everywhere, even in the U.S., are facing extremist and demagogic threats to our values and institutions.
Above all, though, BREAKING POINT is a human story, a story of people who are willing to sacrifice their lives and families to create a better future for themselves, their children, and their country. It’s a film about people fighting for their own dignity and for a chance for a better life. The people we filmed moved and inspired me. I hope they will have the same impact on audiences who watch the film.
Ukrainian Director’s Statement – Oles Sanin
College students speak out and are savagely beaten by police. I tell myself we can’t go on like this, we have to change our country, we have to defend our rights, our honor, our children. I go into the street and I see a million people marching, people who have realized the same thing…
When ordinary Ukrainians picked up cobblestones, I picked up my strongest weapon – my camera. I joined dozens of other filmmakers on the barricades of the Maidan to film our people as they made history. In the face of massive lies and propaganda, I had to tell the world the truth. Telling our truth was something we had to do to survive.
We saw incredible acts of heroism, acts of sacrifice. My Ukrainian people showed their true nature – they were willing to risk and give their lives for friends that they had met days, sometimes hours, earlier.
Protesters, armed only with wooden shields, went up against machine guns and sniper rifles. More than a hundred died. But before we had time to grieve and bury our dead, the war began. Brought on by people who said they were our brothers. Our fight for freedom moved from Independence Square to our border with Russia.
Teachers, actors, doctors, lawyers put on military uniforms and risked everything for their country. Today they continue to defend our freedom and our dignity. They know that if we lose, our children will have to fight this war.
We were all shocked when this story began, and we don’t know when it will end. The barricades of the Maidan are gone. But the barricades live on in our hearts, and we must man them for as long as it takes, for our country, our freedom, our democracy, our peaceful future. We will fight to the end, because democracy, freedom and human rights are always worth fighting for.
WRITER’S STATEMENT – Paul Wolansky
BREAKING POINT is a story of war and revolution. It is a story of people betrayed by their leaders, who realize if anything is going to change, they have to be the ones to change it.
It’s also a story close to me. My grandfather was a socialist who dreamed of an independent Ukraine. He was arrested and executed by Stalin. My great-grandfather died at hard labor on an island prison in the Arctic Sea. My mother’s sister died during Stalin’s man-made famine which killed millions of Ukrainians.
When I was nine I read my mother the works of Ukraine’s national poet, the serf-turned-revolutionary Taras Shevchenko. I read of death and blood, suffering and sacrifice. I would look up at my mother and watch tears stream down her face as she silently listened and wept. Somehow I knew I should drop my voice to a whisper, so that she could grieve.
When I saw the images of the Maidan Revolution, I knew I had seen them before: images of courage and sacrifice. Men advancing into gunfire, holding plywood shields, protecting their wives, their daughters, the protesters behind them, from the bullets of the government police.
When Yanukovych’s police opened fire on the Maidan protesters, he expected them to run. Instead, as protesters fell, others took their places. When Putin ordered the Russian invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he expected Ukraine to surrender. Instead thousands of ordinary Ukrainians volunteered and headed into the gunfire. Supported by millions of ordinary Ukrainians who fed, clothed and armed them.
BREAKING POINT is the story of brave people who face incredible odds in their struggle for freedom. Of people who want to live in dignity, and leave a just society for those who follow after them. Making this film is my way of honoring my mother, my grandfather, and all the Ukrainians who sacrificed and died, so that their country could be free.
Breaking Point captures the spirit of Maidan and of Ukraine itself -- a story that few in the West pay attention to, much less comprehend. Perhaps through this film, we can understand why the success or failure of Ukraine’s stubborn resistance to Putin’s annexation and invasion will determine the future of Europe and the Trans Atlantic alliance. Breaking Point comes at a crucial crossroads as Russia is counting on “Ukraine fatigue” and Europe’s commercial class’s desire to return to “business as usual” and to brush aside the 10,000 Ukrainian deaths, not counting the thousands of Russian soldiers lying in clandestine graves. The film rightly emphasizes the sad fact that the Ukrainian people have fought this battle on their own and on our behalf. Unsaid is how little NATO and the US have contributed. Breaking Point’s directors let the stunning images of Maidan, the siege of Donetsk airport, the Illovaisk massacre, the gruesome wreckage of MH17, and the touching testimonies of Ukrainian volunteers and their families tell the story.
Paul Roderick Gregory
Paul Roderick Gregory is the Cullen Professor of Economics at the University of Houston, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and a research professor at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin. He has written extensively on Russia and the Soviet Union.
Breaking Point is documentary film at its best. The ongoing War for Democracy in Ukraine portrayed in Mark Harris’s documentary film, Breaking Point, is powerful, cogent and persuasive insight into the dilemma Europe and the world now face: a future of protracted war, or the possibility for peaceful, prosperous, rule of law based sovereign nations living in harmony with each other.
The invasion, continued subversion, death and destruction inflicted on Ukraine by Putin’s government is a violation of many solemn international conventions agreed to by Russia. If Russia’s destructive aggressions so graphically shown in Breaking Point are allowed to stand unchallenged, a return to the Cold War or worse will result.
Breaking Point shows the moral and physical courage of the Ukrainians of the Maidan Revolution ridding the nation of a corrupt, oligarchical government. The people of Ukraine have chosen a democratic path. Putin’s government has chosen illegal military aggression to dominate Ukraine and intimidate neighboring states. Whether Putin’s war will prevail or whether the Ukrainian people will be able to choose their own destiny, it is to hoped will be the subject of a subsequent documentary.
William G. Miller
Ambassador Miller is one of the most highly respected experts on U.S.-Ukrainian relations in the United States. He has worked in U.S. foreign policy since 1959, beginning in the State Department, then the U.S. Senate (Chief of Staff of the Intelligence Committee), a multitude of U.S.-Soviet, then U.S.-Russian NGOs and Foundations (including Sakharov) and now U.S.-Ukrainian NGOs and Foundations. From 1993 to 1998 he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine (Budapest Memorandum, 1994). His experience has spanned the Cold War, the collapse of the USSR, and U.S.-Ukrainian relations since Ukraine established independence in 1991.
111 years after the sailors' mutiny aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin and 90 years after Soviet film director's Sergei Eisenstein’s monumental film comes the epic documentary BREAKING POINT: The War for Democracy in Ukraine. The decision by Ukrainians to pursue prosperity with Europe brought on Russian aggression and the illegal annexation of Crimea. In both films men and women seeking peace and freedom confront brutality and death.
Battleship Potemkin is famous for its graphic depiction of Russian troops gunning down ordinary citizens on the Odessa Steps. The filmmakers of BREAKING POINT similarly bring the audience unflinchingly close to images of the war unleashed by Russia, using startling documentary footage and emotional interviews with participants to make us feel that “We Are There”.
Free societies value a people’s right to peaceful protest and self-determination. It is a rare film that can demonstrate these democratic values and can inspire people suffering from oppression. BREAKING POINT shows courageous Ukrainians striving to live as a free people in peace and prosperity, in a world ruled by laws, not by gun, tank or bomb.
James Patterson is a Life Member of the American Foreign Service Association. He has received many assignments in Europe and Asia. His writing has been published in the Foreign Service Journal, Epoch Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Examiner, In These Times, The Hill, Berkeley Daily Planet and San Jose Mercury News.
Santa Barbara Independent Review, January 2017:
Foreign empires, beginning with Genghis Khan, have been invading Ukraine for centuries, drawn by fertile soil and oceans of wheat. Three years ago, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin did the same in response to the Maidan Uprising, the Ukrainian equivalent of Tiananmen Square. What started off as a peaceful protest against a corrupt government that did Putin’s bidding, turned violent when Putin dispatched troops to restore order.
BREAKING POINT provides a passionate and chilling look at how that uprising evolved with striking emotional insight into the psychology of mass movements. For a host of reasons, these events failed to seize the political imagination of mainstream America. In light of Donald Trump’s relationship with Putin, it’s clear we should have been paying closer attention.
Reporter Nick Welsh writes for the Santa Barbara Independent.
A letter from the viewer:
Dear Mr. Harris: I just watched your phenomenal documentary Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine and felt compelled to write to you. It was being screened at the Regina Int. Film Festival and Awards, where I was also screening my first-ever documentary, Mightier Than The Sword, shot in Afghanistan. Your film was incredible. The time that you took to gather footage, the building of the characters, the journalistic rigour, the artful story telling, the editing, the camera work, the courage of the camera crew — I now know how a documentary should be made and what it should look like. (And it also made me very proud, as a Canadian, to have someone like Chrystia Freeland as our Foreign Affairs Minister.)
This documentary clarified my worldview and raised my standards and aspirations regarding what I want to achieve in a second documentary.
Anyway, thank you so much for making this — I am telling — demanding — all my friends to watch this documentary. It is so important not only in terms of the breathtaking skill set that brought this film to light but also for illuminating how truly evil Putin is — and how things like rule of law and liberal democracy are worth dying for.
Roberta Staley is a magazine editor, writer, and the director of documentary Mightier Than the Sword.
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