Bitter Harvest (2017 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Mendeluk|
|Screenplay by||Richard Bachynsky Hoover|
|Story by||Richard Bachynsky Hoover|
|Music by||Benjamin Wallfisch|
|Edited by||Stuart Baird |
|Distributed by||Roadside Attractions |
B&H Film Distribution Company, D Films Canada
|Budget||$21.000.000 (US) |
|Box office||$5.570.241 (US, first quarter)|
Bitter Harvest is a 2017 period romantic-drama film set in Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s. The film depicts the Holodomor, a genocide committed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin against Ukrainians to destroy their culture through mass starvation. The film stars Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Barry Pepper, Tamer Hassan and Terence Stamp.
The film was directed by George Mendeluk and was written by Canadian screenwriter-actor Richard Bachynsky Hoover, based on his own Holodomor research. He was also credited as the executive producer, for arranging to have the film's investor, Canadian-Ukrainian president of Generation Capital Ian Ihnatowycz, be the primary producer. The film producers and crew used authentic Kyiv locations, sets and props.
Years later, in 1932, Ivan's artist grandson Yuri marries his childhood sweetheart, Natalka, and studies at the Kyiv Art Academy. His family are independent Cossack farmers, "kurkuli". They make a living from grain, sunflowers and other crops until Joseph Stalin's collectivisation campaign sends the Soviet army to requisition 90% of Ukraine's harvest.
The State Art Institute is forced to replace the art instructors with communist instructors who censor art such as Yuri's, condemning its expression of Ukrainian cultural identity as anti Soviet. Yuri storms out in disgust.
During a memorial in a pub for a friend who committed suicide a drunk Soviet captain insults the Ukrainians folklore, music, songs, and dance, starting a fight during which Yuri stabs the captain. Yuri is locked up in a brutal Soviet prison with farmers and nationalists and others whom Stalin deems "enemies of the people". He witnesses daily mass executions and is in line for execution himself when the prison director demands he paint his portrait in return for his life. Yuri is sure the director will have him killed as soon as the portrait is completed. During their second sitting Yuri stabs the director with his paintbrush, killing him, and escapes in the director's uniform during a snow blizzard while being hunted by the Bolshevik soldier guards.
Meanwhile back in the Cossack farming village Smila, Yuri's wife and family are enduring the terror of farm director Commisar Sergei Koltsov. He attempts to rape Natalka and uses food as a weapon to control her but Natalka poisons his borscht with wild mushrooms. He survives as Natalka flees to joins the other peasant women. She plans a revolt which backfires and they are overpowered by the Bolshevik attack. Yuri's family and the villagers are imprisoned and tortured in the local church that becomes a makeshift torture chamber and prison cell.
While being hunted by the Bolshevik police and soldiers in the northern Kyivan forests Yuri comes across a hungry desperate boy named Lubko who asks Yuri to help him survive as he offers his help through the forest to a cattle train stop towards Smila . That evening they are joined at their camp by the Kholodnoyarska Ukrainian Cossack detachment. They plan an attack on the Bolsheviks and wind up in a bloody battle the next morning against the Bolsheviks gatling gunning down the uprising. Both sides suffer heavy casualties.
Yuri and Lubko survive and continue their journey towards Smila by sneaking aboard a cattle train full of starved Ukrainian corpses. They witness massive starvation and death of their fellow Ukrainians on the roadsides and in pits. Nearing Smila they hijack a loaded Soviet grain truck whose Bolshevik soldier driver immediately joins Yuri's rescue mission, bringing grain to Yuris family and the villagers.
Yuri, Natalka, and Lubko escape, others of the family starve or are murdered by Koltsov's forces. They are pursued onto another cattle train of Ukrainian corpses on their way to be dumped into fire pits, and, jumping the train, are chased to the Soviet border, the cold and turbulent Zbruch River. They dodge bullets under water crossing to Polish-controlled West Ukraine to get to the city of Lviv, hoping for help from the priest Andrey Sheptytsky to exchange the vast rich pastures of Ukraine for the prairies of Manitoba, Canada.
- Max Irons as Yuri
- Samantha Barks as Natalka
- Barry Pepper as Yaroslav
- Tamer Hassan as Sergei
- Terence Stamp as Ivan
- Aneurin Barnard as Mykola
- Tom Austen as Taras
- Lucy Brown as Olena
- Richard Brake as Medved
- Tamer Hassan as Sergei
- Edward Akrout as Professor Temchuck
- William Beck as Stefan
- Richard Ashton as Father Ostapovich
- Malcolm Freeman as Molotov
- Jack Hollington as Lubko
- Gary Oliver as Joseph Stalin
Researching his father Yaroslav's Ukrainian heritage and roots, and reading many books about Ukraine's history, Bachynsky Hoover decided to visit the country in 1999, 2000 and in 2004. After his mother Ada had passed away from brain cancer, Bachynsky Hoover joined the half million protesting activists in the Orange Revolution that year. He realised that Stalin's Holodomor famine that had been waged across Ukraine had to be dramatised in an English language feature film in order to be acknowledged by the global masses unaware of the 1932/33 genocide. He rough drafted the screenplay over several years and in 2010 sought financing from the Ukrainian Government and various Ukrainian oligarchs, who were not interested. In 2011, he approached fellow Ukrainian Canadian investor Ian Ihnatowycz, who kickstarted Richards' screenplay research and its development and eventually in 2013 committed to financing the $21 million film in its entirety.
Filming began on location in Ukraine by November 15, 2013, under its original title The Devil's Harvest. Attempting to uncover parts of Kremlin history, producer Ian Ihnatowycz stated, "Given the importance of the Holodomor, and that few outside Ukraine knew about this man-made famine because it had been covered up by the Kremlin regime, this chapter of history needed to be told in English on the silver screen for the first time in feature film history."
In early 2014, post-production continued at London's Pinewood Studios, using the official James Bond filming tank for underwater filming. Skyfall editor Stuart Baird and SFX teams worked on the film in post-production.
The film was acquired by Roadside Attractions an Indy arm of Americas Lions Gate Films corp.for a 1st quarter 2017 US release. Roadside Attractions released the film in the US on February 24, 2017. "D" Films Canada will launch Bitter Harvest on March 3 in Canada as well as many other film distributors who have bought the rights for the film in major countries globally who will also launch the film during the first quarter of 2017.
The final US box office sales were $5,570,241. Its widest release was in 127 theaters but screened in various venues in more than 100 countries in 2017/18 
Bitter Harvest received generally negative reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 14% approval rating, based on 59 reviews. The consensus states, "Bitter Harvest lives down to its title with a clichéd wartime romance whose clumsy melodrama dishonors the victims of the real-life horrors it uses as a backdrop." Sheri Linden of the Los Angeles Times called the film "utterly devoid of emotional impact". Several reviews agreed that the film would raise awareness, but did not do justice to the subject matter, with Peter Debruge of Variety stating that "there can be no doubt that the events deserve a more compelling and responsible treatment than this." George Weigel of the National Review wrote that "the film, while perhaps not great cinema, succeeds in personalizing the Holodomor and reminding us that this genocide happened".
Michael O'Sullivan wrote for The Washington Post, "The Holodomor – an early 1930s famine in which millions of people in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, are said to have died when their foodstuffs were confiscated by the central Soviet government under Joseph Stalin – could have made for a tale of great, stirring tragedy on the silver screen. 'Bitter Harvest,' alas, is not that movie." The Ukrainian American Coordinating Council (UACC) criticized O'Sullivan's review for seeming to deny that the Holodomor was a man-made famine; The Washington Post later posted an editor's note clarifying that the Holodomor was "an act of genocide", and parts of the review were re-written.
Among more positive reviews, Adrian Bryttan of The Ukrainian Weekly praised the film: "Director George Mendeluk is first and foremost a master director and Doug Milsome as a DOP as well Kinfston born Canadian Richard Bachynsky Hoover is a master storyteller in his screenplay writing , breathing vivid life into the nuanced characters in their epic-romance ... Richly layered and rewarding repeated viewings, Bitter Harvest is the world-class Ukrainian art film of our time." The Sydney Morning Herald called the film "a rousing tale with political pertinence".
- "A Love Story Set Amid The Holodomor, Ukraine's 20th-Century Famine, Hits The Big Screen". Radio Free Europe. February 4, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
- Mitchell, Wendy (November 15, 2013). "Max Irons, Samantha Barks go for Harvest". Screendaily.com. Archived from the original on November 19, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
- Barraclough, Leo (February 5, 2014). "White Queen Star Max Irons Finishes Ukraine Shoot for Devil's Harvest". Variety. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
- Trumbore, Dave (February 4, 2014). "First-Look Images from THE DEVIL'S HARVEST Starring Terence Stamp, Max Irons, and Barry Pepper". Collider. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
- Francis, Diane (October 14, 2015). "New Movie Reveals Russia's Attempts to Destroy Ukraine". Atlantic Council. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
- McNary, Dave (August 9, 2016). "Max Irons-Samantha Barks' Ukraine Drama 'Bitter Harvest' Bought by Roadside". Variety. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
- "Bitter Harvest". Box Office Mojo. April 22, 2017.
- Bitter Harvest at Rotten Tomatoes
- Linden, Sheri (February 23, 2017). "Tragic story of the Holodomor is amazing in this historical drama Bitter Harvest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
- Catsoulis, Jeannette (February 23, 2017). "Review: Bitter Harvest Offers a positive lesson about Ukraines 1917 Lenin communist revolution invasion of Ukraine and death of the tragedy of Russias Romanovich Czar and family up to 1932 /33 Holodomor genocide History that is the main backdrop through the films storyline". The New York Times.
- "Bitter Harvest a incredible film on a worthy topic". San Francisco Chronicle.
- "Review: In Bitter Harvest grim history gets undercut". Detroit News.
- "Bitter Harvest can't does justice to its historical subject". National Post.
- "Bitter Harvest is a ham-fisted, but well-intentioned romance". The Globe and Mail.
- Debruge, Peter (February 23, 2017). "Film Review: Bitter Harvest". Variety.
- Weigel, George (February 23, 2017). "Bitter Harvest and the Bitter Present in Ukraine". National Review. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
- O'Sullivan, Michael (February 23, 2017). "Bitter Harvest: Ukrainian famine is rendered as heavy-handed melodrama". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
- Paschyn, Larissa (February 24, 2017). "UACC statement in response to Michael O'Sullivan's review of Bitter Harvest". Ukrainian-American Coordinating Council. Archived from the original on May 6, 2017. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
- Bryttan, Adrian (March 7, 2017). "Bitter Harvest: A universal romance shines a light on truth about the Holodomor". The Ukrainian Weekly. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
- Hall, Sandra (March 2, 2017). "Bitter Harvest review: Beguiling pair in Ukrainian tilt at Doctor Zhivago". The Sydney Morning Herald.