Ukraine-Shot Shoah Feature ‘Shttl’ Boarded By Upgrade Productions

EXCLUSIVE: Matt Brodlie and Jonathan Kier’s Upgrade Productions has boarded world sales rights to Shoah feature Shttl, which played at the London and Rome Film Festivals (where it won the audience award) this fall.

The film was previously with Bron Releasing but is no longer on the slate after Bron needed to streamline its film business.

Black and white drama Shttl follows the inhabitants of a Yiddish Ukrainian village on the eve of the Nazi invasion, known as Operation Barberossa.

Shot in Ukraine last year (with an almost entirely Ukrainian crew), the production fully reconstructed a traditional shtetl (or village) outside of Kiev to recreate life prior to the Nazi onslaught (as few traces of that life now remain), but it was subsequently destroyed by the Russian invasion earlier this year. Following the filming in 2021, the set (which included a synagogue which had been blessed and consecrated) had been donated to the Ukrainian government and was set to be turned into a museum for educational purposes – but in a sad twist of fate it no longer exists.

Pic is written and directed by the documentary filmmaker Ady Walter, who makes his feature film debut. The film stars Saul Rubinek (Unforgiven), Moshe Lobel, Antoine Millet, Anisia Stasevich, Pyotr Ninevsky, Daniel Kenigsberg and Emily Karpel.

The feature will have its U.S. premiere on January 16 at the New York Jewish Film Festival presented by The Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center.

Walter said of the film: “Shttl is based on real historical facts and events that work to represent the Shoah. I’ve been obsessed for years with how to make a movie about this disaster, and I thought maybe the only way to do so is through a fictional story showing life right before it disappears rather than the destruction and death typically depicted in Holocaust movies. The Yiddish word for village is ‘shtetl’. So why is the title Shttl? In 1969, writer Georges Perec whose mother died in Auschwitz, published La Disparition. In this French novel, the letter E never appears, an almost impossible feat. Its absence marks a hollow, an empty space, a vertigo, a gaping hole. Shttl pays homage by leaving out the same letter. In Shttl, we see a community live, love, argue and be happy in the context of a world about to disappear”.

He continued: “Although the film announces the extreme brutality of the war coming with the German invasion, it of course echoed with the current war in Ukraine. The idea was to hand over the village (the set that had been constructed) to the Ukrainian authorities to create an educational space for Ukrainian kids, who could understand and feel what a shtetl and Jewish life in the countryside were. This was ruined by the attack on Ukraine. We know that heavy fighting was happening around the set, which we can’t access anymore since the entire area has been mined. This is the reality of war.”

The filmmaker says that he is in touch with the Ukrainian crew but is unable to discuss it further: “I am. But I can’t really talk about it for security reasons. And to protect their right to privacy in tragic times.”

Producers are Forecast Pictures’ Jean-Charles Levy (France), Wild Tribe’s Olias Barco (Belgium) and Star Media’s Vlad Riashyn (Ukraine). The production designer is Ivan Levchenko (Ukraine), director of photography is Vladimir Ivanov (Ukraine), costume director is Elena Gres (Ukraine) and the film’s editor is Jeremie Bole de Chaumont (France).

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