“I walked through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying…’”
These words are taken from a report published in the western press, including the Manchester Guardian and the New York Evening Post, back in 1933. The author, 27-year-old Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, travelled to the Soviet Union to make a macabre discovery and break the news about Holodomor – the terrible famine that killed millions of Ukrainians.
The story of the courageous journalist unravels in Mr. Jones, a biopic drama directed by Agnieszka Holland and co-produced by Ukraine, Poland and the UK. Egor Olesov, Ukrainian co-producer, explains: “The movie goes beyond the Holodomor agenda. It is all about genuine humanism and the dark side of the global system. It centres on a strong individual determined to follow the truth wherever it may lead.”
Earlier this year, Mr Jones premiered at the Berlinale and clocked up both positive and negative reviews, leaving no room for indifference. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it “a bold and heartfelt movie” and “a picture with sinew and strength”. In September, the film secured the prestigious Grand Prix Golden Lions award at Poland’s Gdynia Film Festival.
Actor James Norton, who stars as Jones, recollects: “It was a great honour to tell a story which is so important to this country… I felt a bit like Gareth would have felt, arriving somewhere which isn’t his country and seeing this.”
The film was shot on location in Ukraine in March 2018, with filming taking place in Chernihiv and Kharkiv. “The biting cold weather was a major challenge for the shooting crew,” says Olesov. “We were filming in snow-covered fields and remote villages. Norton, wrapped in an old Soviet-style coat, would have to wade through snowdrifts or sit on a tree branch for several hours during the frosty night. Yet, it looks so true-to-fact on the screen. Holland says the snow and cold give some kind of nightmarish quality and creates silence.
Mr Jones, or The Price of Truth in Ukrainian, will hit national theatres starting 28 November. On this day, Holland will come to Kyiv to present the movie at the opening of the New British Film Festival. It will be screened in cinemas worldwide. Olesov adds: “We still live in a world inundated with fake news. Still, those in power set their own profit and ambition above human life. This concerns each country.”
Gareth Jones, whose visit to famine-ravaged Ukraine allegedly inspired Orwell’s Animal Farm, was murdered under murky circumstances in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in 1935.