“Stay Online,” a Ukraine war drama from director Yeva Strelnikova which uses the innovative Screenlife format, has dropped a trailer ahead of its world premiere July 22 at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival. Variety has been given exclusive access (see below).
Set after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February, the film begins when a young woman (Liza Zaitseva) volunteering in Kyiv is given one of the thousands of laptops donated by ordinary Ukrainians to support the war effort. She’s asked to install a sensitive military application and deliver the laptop to her brother serving on the frontline.
But the woman receives a mysterious video call from a young boy searching for his father, the laptop’s previous owner, who went missing during the Russian army’s brutal massacre of innocent civilians in Bucha. Reluctantly, she agrees to help find his missing parents — a decision that will ultimately force her to risk the lives of her own loved ones.
“Stay Online” was written by Strelnikova and Anton Skrypets and produced by AMO Pictures, Mamas Production and OUP Fiction. The producers are Skrypets, Anatolii Dudinskyi, Maryna Kvasova and Alla Lipovetska. XYZ Films is handling North American sales.
The film was made using the Screenlife format, which takes place almost entirely on characters’ smartphones and computer screens. In a director’s statement, Strelnikova said the format was first proposed by Skrypets “not only because of the impossibility of finding enough funds for the classic scripted feature film during the war, but also because this war is taking place on laptops, phones and all social networks.
“It is broadcast every minute,” she said. “Screenlife is our new reality. And our only opportunity to find out if a person dear to you is alive, whether he died under rockets, whether his car was not shot. ‘Stay online,’ for me, it is not only a call to ‘get in touch,’ but also about how to stay alive.”
The director described the film as a “war drama with elements of fiction, based on the events in Bucha,” in which local authorities estimate that more than 400 civilians were killed. Production started four months into the war, with Strelnikova and Skrypets beginning to write the script before Russian troops had withdrawn from the scene of the brutal crime in Bucha.
The intense psychological strain of the war, and the trauma of that particular atrocity, made filming “Stay Online” a challenge, said Strelnikova. “I remember the day when we witnessed the Bucha tragedy in photos. The time was so emotional and painful that many actors refused to play.”
The director, who is making her feature debut, said that “it is impossible to comprehend the horror that is happening in our country.
“The war is destructive,” she said. “Many people cannot shoot or write at such times. I wanted to write. After all, we are all different and perceive things in a different way. Some people fall silent in severe stressful situations, while others, on the contrary, mobilize all resources. Our film shows it all. During the war, some people go forward and some go back,” she continued. “Therefore, for some people the war is destructive, and for others it becomes a way to express his or her creativity. Many people have opened up just because they had something to say.”
The director added: “I hope that our feelings will be heard and seen. And the more people watch our movie worldwide, and the more we talk about the war and increase attention to it, the more we all will be reminded of the need for struggle and action.”
Here’s the exclusive trailer for “Stay Online”: