Ukraine Is Not a Brothel

Date: 
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Location: 
Toronto, Canada - various locations

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel is a documentary about Ukrainian feminist protest collective FEMEN. The film is directed by Kitty Green and will have its Canadian premiere at the 2014 Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto this month, where there will be three screenings (see showtimes below). You can see the trailer for the documentary here:

FEMEN’s members are known for their topless protests, referring to their activism as “sextremism” as they insist that they have reclaimed control over their bodies, thus resisting male objectification. They take power over their bodies as weapons of protest and a means of drawing public attention to their cause.

FEMEN originally sprung up from a desire to fight the rise of sex tourism and prostitution in 2008 against the backdrop of a corrupt post-Soviet Ukraine. The group’s mission statement is to fight patriarchy as it is manifested in three particular forms: religion, dictatorship, and the sex industry. Their slogan is “our God is woman, our mission is protest, our weapons are bare breasts.”

The irony of FEMEN protesting the sexual objectification of women while baring their breasts has not been lost on many of the group’s critics. They have been accused of representing a male fantasy of female protest, setting the feminist cause back several decades, and of propagating an exclusionary view of white, European feminism that is misguided at best, and culturally insensitive at worst.

However, others have praised FEMEN for being a candid breath of fresh air and vaunted them for their courage in the face of brutality from security forces in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Whether you love them or hate them, FEMEN is fascinating. When Ukraine Is Not a Brothel premiered in September 2013, it unveiled a disturbing paradox at the heart of FEMEN that is now common knowledge: the group was actually founded by a man, Victor Svyatski. Svyatski is revealed to be a manipulative, verbally abusive bully who calls FEMEN’s female members “weak” and admits to founding the group “to get girls” on some subconscious level.

In Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, director Kitty Green lifts the lid on FEMEN, its multiple internal contradictions and the questions they raise. What does it mean when a group designed to fight patriarchy is itself structured as a patriarchy? Is a feminist group which relies on the sexualisation of the female body as a trope truly feminist? And, perhaps most importantly, is FEMEN producing change in the fight against patriarchy and oppression?

Following the making of Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, one of FEMEN’s founding members Inna Shevchenko moved to Paris where FEMEN is now based. The group no longer has an office in Ukraine and all of its remaining founding members have left the country due to security concerns. FEMEN has also established a global presence, holding protests in Germany, Tunisia, Crimea, and Italy, among others. Their newest project is establishing a branch of FEMEN in the United Kingdom. Victor Svyatski is no longer associated with the group.

While the legitimacy of FEMEN’s tactics is a subject of intense debate, Ukraine Is Not a Brothel offers a window into the organization at one of its seminal moments and reveals a great deal about its structure, its goals, and its own internal struggle against patriarchy.

You can purchase tickets to Ukraine Is Not a Brothel here.

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Ukraine Is Not a Brothel

Saturday, April 26 | 9:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, 350 King Street West

Monday, April 28 | 1:00 p.m.
Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle

Tuesday, April 29 | 12:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, 350 King Street West