Maciek Hamela Interview – Director of ‘In the Rearview’ / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase


Sadly, we learn about humanity’s cruelty the hard way. But when the news broke of Russia’s war against Ukraine in February 2022, it wasn’t just Ukraine’s national unity but global solidarity that became its helping hand. With In the Rearview, a new documentary by Polish film director and producer Maciek Hamela, we begin to see through media representation and reflect personally through the discussions of those directly affected by the conflict.

Through first-person accounts, In the Rearview unravels the destruction, the loss of life, and the mission to save families’ lives in Ukraine—and captures true emotions in real-time without needing elaborate staging or a clutter of facts. Its heart is in the stories of individuals who are ready to use their voice. We caught up with Hamela at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

This interview has been edited for publication.

Projektor: Congratulations on debuting In the Rearview at Cannes! It’s a big accomplishment, how does it feel to be there?

Hamela: It’s been a journey of course to get here. It’s also a relief to finally see the film released and [see] the reactions. We’re getting a lot of feedback from not only friends, but people who feel they want to say thank you or just share their thoughts after [seeing] the film. For me personally, of course, it’s rewarding—but I also feel that, with this film, the mission and message we’ve attached to it is really going out and making itself heard.

This documentary is unlike anything that I’d seen previously. You’re not just the director, but you’re also one of the people who drove these innocent Ukrainian families to the Polish border. How did you initially get involved?

It was a natural instinct. Tens of thousands of other people got involved at that time, on both sides of the border. I was taken by surprise in the beginning on how big the voluntary response on the Polish side [was] and the solidarity. A grassroots movement has not happened in our country since the early ’80s—the Solidarity Movement that gathered 10 million people. It was at that scale, and in most of these stories, they were just very simple people [offering] their rooms in their houses and taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees who did not get stranded in refugee camps. We kind of really got sucked into [helping] this wave of refugees into our society.

I got involved as a driver. I bought a van on the third day of the war. I went to the border the next week and I was already driving to the other side of Ukraine bringing families of friends at the beginning, then just answering random calls I was getting from friends of friends who had somebody stuck somewhere. And then, of course, I started working with various organisations. I had a friend who helped me coordinate the pick-ups and just kept sending after them. That’s how the evacuation started. The filming part came later on at the end of March. In the beginning there was no talk about filming. I actually stopped a shoot I was doing, on another border in Belarus about a completely different subject, to do this. I did not think I’d be doing anything else until the need to bring people stopped.

How did you coordinate with the families during filming, especially during their vulnerable moments?

It was very important for us to follow a strict protocol for filming. I set off at the very beginning, after long discussions with my first DOP, [a friend] who also came to help me drive at night. First of all, we knew we were going to do the filming always in parallel to the evacuation. So that at all times, [the filming] could not influence or slow down the evacuation process. The second thing was very important: I told the families ahead of time by phone that there was going to be a camera, so they would not be taken by surprise. The third thing was that I got rid of all the fixed cameras that we took for the first trip; we stayed with one camera that was always held by somebody. That was very important so that the people we found could always say no, and the camera would be turned off [or put down]. We also never asked them to sign [the release form] when we would bring them into the car so they would never think that they were being [manipulated]. We didn’t want to use [their] vulnerability to impose something that they might not want. The release forms we always signed at the end, when they were already at their destination.

We had was hours of discussions of how to do this. And [asking,] is this going to work at all? Is this camera going to destroy the fragile intimacy of the situation? What happened surprised me; it was the opposite of what I [expected]—the people had an inner urge to talk to me as a foreigner speaking their language, and really tell their stories. They were eyewitness accounts of crimes of all sorts, but also crimes against humanity. They really wanted me to understand what was happening to them because I might have been someone who was ignorant of what was going on in these zones. What transpires in the film are not back-and-forth question-and-answer kind of situations. It’s really a flow of stories that come out very naturally, and when you thread them into one, it’s this immense human story. They are the voices of this one big story of this invasion, of what the world is becoming, and how you become a refugee. It’s not necessarily about this war in Ukraine, it’s much larger.

They are the voices of this one big story of this invasion, of what the world is becoming, and how you become a refugee. It’s not necessarily about this war in Ukraine, it’s much larger.

When [the camera] appeared, I thought it might put them in danger. This fragile situation has helped in a way because the people thought of this camera as a window to the world. They were being exposed at that time to Russian propaganda; it was a huge war of information that was being waged by Russia. People would be sitting in basements for a month and they wouldn’t know who was bombing them, they’d be afraid to walk out. So these people feel that it’s their obligation to tell the world what was really going on. There was such disparity between what they were seeing [in real life], and what they were watching on TV in these occupied zones. So the presence of the camera […] it didn’t really feel like we were intruding. They would tell me on the phone, “It’s okay with the camera, we want to speak.”

What message would you like to put out to audiences prior to them watching the documentary?

The first message is to find a cinema and go see the film. We don’t want you to see the film just because it’s a militant film, but because it shows something you probably haven’t seen. The first voice we heard [after] our premiere in France said they’ve been seeing since the beginning of the war a huge line of cars lined up on the Polish-Ukrainian borders—thousands of cars in this amazing traffic jam trying to flee, and they knew the numbers. But what they were missing was the access to what was happening on the inside of the cars. Maybe it’s going to help you understand what these people went through.

But of course, at the end what I am hoping for is that every spectator can find a little detail in one of these stories that strongly relates to their life and can [let them] visualise themselves in one of these empty seats of the van. For a moment, think about how it could be happening in a different European country. Is this war really about Ukraine? Or is it a war about all of you? Should we all be concerned by this? Have I done enough?

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