Monica Hellstorm serves as the producer in The Distant of Barking Dogs. This film has recently made its way on the banter as a 2019 Oscar Contender for Best Documentary Feature. She opens up about her experience of watching children live in a war zone and see this type of living as normal. Hellstorm mentions how children’s reactions are portrayed, which is what the film touches on.
ATM: Express the family’s reaction when visiting New York compare to living in Ukraine.
M: It is a real difference. This is the most amazing experience for them. For them to have this chance to come to New York. For foreigners, New York is the place for human films. They had time to see the Empire State Building and other tourist places. They are overwhelmed by the experience.
ATM: Before making this film, do you believe an average person not from Europe would clearly know of the topic discussed in this film?
M: Yes, in Europe because it is happening so close. The force of the Russians role is big. Some of the reaction from the Trump people. They have had screenings in LA to understand where the conflict is. For the American audiences they know there has been something with Russia and Ukraine, but they cannot remember the exact details of how and why it happened. The focus has been to see what it means for children trapped in a war zone and grow up in the shadow of war. The particular aspect of war was not the reason we made the film. It can happen at any place in the world with children growing up and live a normal life while bombing is happening. We have made a big point in explaining too much about the war and this why this happens. We have two information signs in the film, and this is it. There is also a human story behind it.
ATM: What do you feel is the portrayal of children living in a war zone?
M: There is so much going in the world that it is hard to keep track of everything. Our focus has been to tell a universal story about the children growing up in these countries. There are many stories told here that are told in the U.S. America has followed public shows from Europe and other places around the universe.
ATM: As a producer, how did you want to bring more awareness to the children living to allow us to concretely understand their life?
M: We tried to get as close as possible. We tried to find out how to help the area in doing something in this situation. We realized it was too difficult to start something. As soon as the money moves it gets very complicated. We looked at the help of the organization in the area. We tried to point them to these organizations that already were in this area. This is also in the war and in Syria. So, the focus can be on helping children. Our main thing has been to help in the area and help the awareness of the focus on children and guide them. The film was shows how important close relationships like Oleg and his grandmother plays a real tribute to growing up. It is a healthy thing having someone in your life, caring, and protecting you in a way. . . because as a child you are still allowed to play and be a little bit aware. Also, they are aware of the dangers that are there so you can make choices in your everyday life.
ATM: How does America show children living in third world countries from your perspective?
M: It makes me sad how they live. The Western countries are so rich. There are poor countries where people cannot afford food or location. There is something wrong in the whole structure of our society and as a human being. As a mother, I want to help them and do something to make a difference. As a human being, this is how I react. There is a difference in war zones and poor countries where people are starving and how to help.
ATM: Do you believe the children’s reactions and the fact they see this as a reality is effectively projected?
M: Simon captured the real life in this area. We had many ethical discussions about this. He has been filming situations that have been dangerous. They have this hot gun shooting and Oleg gets hit in the foot. The bullet rebounded. We have discussions about how we protect them and portray real life. Simon stopped a lot of situations when going in the beginning. He was like this is too dangerous. He recognized this was their life and he must stay true to the life they lived. He filmed and went along with how they live. The film is really seen the eyes of children. It gives an understanding of what is needed to get through living in a war zone. Of course, war zones are different so I cannot talk generally about them. The way he lives in Ukraine, he would not be able to live in Syria. It is good to give love, hope, and caring while you are there. This is what is strong about the film. It is showing that love and hope that you do not get to see in other films that are about war zones and children.
ATM: What would a conversation with a child of a similar age living in a third world country converse with Oleg about?
M: They would ask about the dangers and what they have experienced. They would talk about playing football, computer screens, living with an older brother and cousin. Children do not see the bigger picture of what they are in their everyday life or the experiences of the things that surround them. They do not react to things. The grandmother stands in the situations and sees what is going on and sees the bigger pictures of where they are. Oleg is worried about reacting to seeing things and talking with his friends. If children were to speak to them, then they would ask about the war, but very quick talk about everyday life like being at school. All kids’ stuff. This is one of the best things about having children because they take it down to a different level.
ATM: What could you assess the high point of Oleg’s day?
M: Like any boy, it is having a girlfriend. You think about the girl you are liking. You play with your friends. You are afraid of what will happen when the living is going on. He lives despite the feeling. They are still trying to live a better life there. They try to make sense of the situation even though it is hard to make sense of this. They go to school and play with their friends. They hide inside when the feeling happens and become worried. They have to keep going and learning from the strength of their grandmother and how she approaches the whole thing. She is making sense of something that does not make sense.