home  synopsis  the characters  screenings  press  credits

Press Reviews for HOLY WARRIORS

Russian Filmmaker Edits War Stories in Banff
By Quintin Winks
Banff Crag & Canyon

The peaceful Bow Valley is an unlikely venue for the debut screening of a film gets into the minds of professional killers, ex-soldiers and war orphans. But the local expertise and facilities at The Banff Centre were exactly what Marianna Yarovskya needed to complete her film HOLY WARRIORS, which also chronicles the spiritual upheaval brought about by war on those involved.

Yarovskya spent two months filming five characters and gathering footage for HOLY WARRIORS, a journey that took her from Russia to war-torn Afghanistan and the former Soviet republic of Chechnya. In the end, a lack of expertise and a full-time job needed to pay the bills shelved her project for two years until she came to Banff.

"In order to put something like this together you have to have complete focus and concentration and I had full time work and I just could not complete it in my spare time," said Yarovskya, a Muscovite in her early 30s. "I had people who could offer me expert advice, but nobody who could sit down and do it with me and that's what happened in Banff."

The frequently grim stories of its five characters unfolded at The Banff Centre's Apr. 7 debut. At times, Yarovskya admits, she was scared interviewing men and women who killed for a living, among them a sniper called Muslim.

"I think the Muslim character who fought on the front zone as a sniper, he insisted he was not a mercenary, he insisted he didn't do it for money, he says his nature is just like this," says Yarovskya. "He's a beast, he likes it, he's a killer."

Perhaps somewhat secretive because of his life's calling, Muslim insisted that neither the interview nor his face be advertised in Russia, despite assertions from Yarovskya's film crew that the documentary would be aimed at global audiences.

"Because he fought so recently, from 1997-2000, he definitely didn't want this to be advertised anywhere in Russia," said Yarovskya. "At some point he just sat back and said 'make sure it's not, because if it is I'll find you.'"

The goal of Yarovskya's documentary is to give her audiences a glimpse into the minds of three professional soldiers, while chronicling their spiritual upheaval.

That upheaval is perhaps most apparent in a veteran of four wars-Afghanistan, Chechnya and two smaller regional wars-who chose to become a Russian Orthodox priest after returning to civilian life.

"He's very conflicted, I would say," said Yarovskya. "He says things that to me are fascinating and mostly provide questions rather than answers. I would ask him how, with though 'shalt not kill,' he finds peace after having killed so many people and now being a priest. He said, 'well, though shalt not kill only applies to my neighbors, the close ones. But we're talking about an aggressor who's threatening the lives of others, that person deserves death.'

"He found this harmony that to me is conflict. He also says about post-traumatic stress that he doesn't believe in it," continued Yarovskya. "He says that people who experience it are healed by wars because that is an environment where everything is clear cut- yes is yes and no is no and everything in between is betrayal, whereas in a peaceful life there are a lot of shades of grey."

None of the characters in the film have a better grasp of the term betrayal than the war orphans. One girl, half Chechnyan, half Russian, tells how she was sitting at home when the door burst open to soldiers who shot all her family. She has no recollection if they were Russian or Chechnyan soldiers, said Yarovskya. One orphan lost his mother in the first Chechnyan war and his father in the second.

"When there's a question asked 'do you think Russian soldiers are at fault for killing?' he says the mercenary soldiers are the evil ones and the simple soldiers are just sent there," said Yarovskya. "'But do you think they are at fault?' and he says 'the one who killed my father is at fault.'"

Yarovskya's other interviews include a woman who served as a spy in Afghanistan for 14 consecutive years and a "charming" man who served as a major in the Russian commandos. This third character was a shaman, said Yarovskya, and was the person she felt the greatest affinity with because his age was closest to hers. "He was the commander of a platoon and because of the shamanism, because of his spirits, he says no one in his platoon died," said Yarovskya. "He says, 'I don't think it was because of my skill. I think it was because of the amulets that I had. Nobody died who had amulets.'"

Though on a personal level Yarovskya liked the shaman character most, she had to draw the line when he asked to come with the film crew to take footage of the orphans at a children's festival. The request left the crew in a moral dilemma.

"At some point for the sanity of the film we decided to stop it because how are we to interview these Chechnyan orphans with somebody whose nickname was the shaman while in the army?" she Yarovskya asked. "Basically there was also a book that came out about him, based on him, about special troops who would dress up in feathers and tambourines as Indians with war makeup. I mean kill military. He says he wouldn't kill civilians."

The result of all her documentary and insight into the human spirit during trying times has done little to change Yarovskya's pacifist outlook on war. But she said she learned a lot about people and the effects of war. One observation was that people who voluntarily go off to war without giving it much thought undergo enormous transformations. It's difficult to find good or evil in that, she said, adding that the greatest wrong is conscripting soldiers and sending them to war when they don't want to go.

"It's a big question mark whether the Russians should have gone in there (Chechnya) in the first place," said Yarovskya. "My characters were very clear on the point that if you need to deal with a conflict, you don't bring a non-professional army there and that's what they did. It was a disaster. They would tell stories that people on the Chechnyan side would start reciting Pushkin, Russian poetry, hoping that a 19-year-old boy fresh out of school would not be able to shoot. But if you hesitate, you get killed."

Kurilovo Journal: From Village Boy to Soldier, Martyr and, Many Say, Saint
By Seth Mydans
The New York Times
Copyright© 2003 The New York Times Company

November 21, 2003


Shoulders back, chest out, the young soldier stands as if on parade in his camouflage fatigues – his boots polished, his rifle at his shoulder, a halo around his head.

His face is the blank mask of a man for whom duty is life. It is not easy being a soldier, or a saint.

Portraits of this young man, Yevgeny Rodionov, are spreading around Russia – sometimes in uniform, sometimes in a robe, sometimes armed, sometimes holding a cross, but always with his halo.

He is Russia's new unofficial saint, a casualty of the war in Chechnya who has been canonized not by the Russian Orthodox Church but by a groundswell of popular adoration.

The portraits are religious icons, venerated in homes and churches where Private Rodionov has become the focus of a minor cult that seems to fill a nationalist hunger for popular heroes.

In one icon he is painted to look like a medieval Russian knight. In another he is included, in full uniform, in a group portrait of the last czar and his family, under the gaze of Jesus.

Church officials say all of this breaks religious law. Sainthood is not a popularity contest, and icons are not campaign posters. The process of canonization, the officials say, is long and arduous and can only be carried out by the church.

But it does happen from time to time that a symbolic figure emerges to capture the passions of a moment and becomes a sort of folk saint -- sometimes the first step toward official sainthood.

In pamphlets, songs and poems, in sermons and on Web sites, Private Rodionov's story has become a parable of religious devotion and Russian nationalism. The young soldier, it is said, was killed by Muslim rebels seven years ago because he refused to renounce his religion or remove the small silver cross he kept around his neck.

It is the story his mother says she was told by the rebels who killed him and who later led her, for a ransom of $4,000, to the place they had buried him. When she exhumed his body late one night, she said, the cross was there among his bones, glinting in the light of flashlights, stained with small drops of blood.

"Nineteen-year-old Yevgeny Rodionov went through unthinkable suffering," reads an encomium on one nationalist Web site, "but he did not renounce the Orthodox faith but confirmed it with his martyr's death.

"He proved that now, after so many decades of raging atheism, after so many years of unrestrained nihilism, Russia is capable, as in earlier times, of giving birth to a martyr for Christ, which means it is unconquerable."

As his story has spread, pilgrims have begun appearing in this small village just west of Moscow, where his mother, Lyubov, 51, tends his grave on an icy hillside beside an old whitewashed church.

Some military veterans have laid their medals by his graveside in a gesture of homage. People in distress have left handwritten notes asking for his intercession.

In a church near St. Petersburg, his full-length image stands at the altar beside icons of the Virgin Mary, the Archangel Michael, Jesus and Nicholas II, the last of the czars, who was canonized three years ago.

Aleksandr Makeyev, a paratroop officer who heads a foundation to assist soldiers, said he had seen soldiers kneeling in prayer before an image of Private Rodionov. "The kids in Chechnya, they feel they've been abandoned by the state and abandoned by their commanders," he told the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.

"They don't know who to appeal to for help, but they understand that Zhenya is one of them," he said, using Private Rodionov's nickname. "You can say he is the first soldier-saint."

Among the photographs of her son that Mrs. Rodionov spreads on her kitchen table are laminated cards that she says some soldiers carry with them for luck. They bear his image along with a prayer:

"Thy martyr, Yevgeny, O Lord, in his sufferings has received an incorruptible crown from thee, our God, for having thy strength he has brought down his torturers, has defeated the powerless insolence of demons. Through his prayers save our souls."

Although he has not been formally canonized, Private Rodionov's mother and other believers say his icons sometimes emit rivulets of holy perfume, as some extremely sacred Orthodox icons are said to do.

Indeed, Mrs. Rodionov said, her own icon of her son drips perfume. "When that happens and I am planning a trip, I postpone it," she said. "The icon gives me signs."

Mrs. Rodionov said she was able to find her son's body and learn how he died during a lull in the war when rebel soldiers were demanding huge sums of money to return live prisoners or the bodies of men they had killed.

According to the accounts of his captors, she said, he and three other soldiers were seized in 1996 while manning a checkpoint and were held in a cellar for 100 days before they were executed.

Private Rodionov was killed, she said, when he refused the rebels' demand that he remove his cross and forswear his religion.

A poem called "The Cross," composed in his honor, paints a scene of laughing heathens who beheaded the young soldier when he defied them.

"Pure mountains in the distance, slopes covered in blooms of blue," the poem reads. "Refusing to renounce Christ, the soldier of Russia fell. And his head rolled, blood flowed from the saber, and the red grass whispered a quiet prayer in its wake."

Private Rodionov was proud to wear his military uniform and to do his duty for his country, his mother said. But as a boy in this small village, all he really wanted was to be a cook.


35’ Rosja/Russia 2005
reż./dir. Marianna Jarovskaya

Filmed between 2001 and 2005, the latest documentary by Marianna Jarowska (we screened her Undesirables in 2003) reaches far beyond the stereotypical portrait of war veterans. Jarowska’s subtle and revealing manner speaks of the social consequences of Russian wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Her characters do not suffer from Vietnam syndrome – they seem to be psychologically integrated and in peace with society. Jarowska’s film depicts society through a gamut of unusual human beings – an Orthodox priest soldier, a shaman soldier, a female spy. The army, war and enemy are shown to be almost natural, constant elements of our world. Superior and dynamic editing, the use of interesting archive footage, a fresh approach to the topic – all culminate in a tour de force in this unsettling documentary.

Some of the films are also screened accompanied by meetings with festival’s guests. Look at meetings.