Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

In quite different ways, two award-winning Nordic documentaries focus on war zones in other parts of the world outside of the Nordic region.

The Distant Barking of Dogs/The Deminer

Simon Lereng Wilmont/Hogir Hirori, co-director: Shinwar Kamal


Eight feature documentaries were recently nominated for the Dragon Award Best Nordic Documentary at this year’s Gothenburg International Film Festival. The award went to the Danish film The Distant Barking of Dogs that last November won the IDFA award for Best First Appearance at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

Among the candidates in Gothenburg was also the Swedish doc The Deminer. This film participated in the main competition in Amsterdam, where it was awarded the Special Jury Award.

Childhood in a War Zone

The Distant Barking of Dogs is a documentary about ten-year-old Oleg who lives in a small village in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. Even though the Best First Appearance competition in Amsterdam is for debutants (within the feature length format), Danish director Simon Lereng Wilmont has previously made two shorter documentaries portraying kids in the same age, focusing on their involvement in sports. In his new film, the filmmaker wanted to portray how it is to be a child growing up in a warzone.

It didn’t necessarily have to be the war in Ukraine. According to Lereng Wilmont, he chose this region for safety reasons, as the conflict here more or less takes the form of a trench war. However, the filming of his young protagonist has clearly not been completely safe, as Oleg lives only some hundred meters from the front line–in the firing line of the grenades launched between the Ukrainian government forces and the Pro-Russian separatists.

«Despite the fact that the military battles are present in the background throughout the film, The Distant Barking of Dogs focuses on recognizable aspects of being a child.»

Recognizable Aspects

We never hear about Oleg’s father. His mother, whose grave Oleg regularly visits, died a few years ago. Understandably, many of the villagers have left the war-torn little town, while Oleg’s grandmother rejects the idea as it will leave them with nothing. Here, at least they have a home.

Despite the fact that the military battles are threateningly present in the background throughout the film (the title even refers to the frequent sound of shots and grenades in the not particularly far distance), The Distant Barking of Dogs focuses on recognizable aspects of being a child and the dynamics between children of different ages. Together with his younger cousin Yarik and their older friend Kostya, Oleg spends his days doing what boys his age usually do, such as swimming in the lake and shooting with a homemade slingshot. But they also collect bullet sleeves and listen closely to news reports about the war. In a particularly unpleasant sequence Kostya brings them a real gun with which to have a shooting session.

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