Ukraine Is Not A Brothel's Revealing Look At Bare-Breasted Warriors

KIEV, Ukraine -- They emerge from a van bare-breasted, festooned with flowers and screaming, waving banners declaring that they are not prostitutes.

Independant Melbourne filmmaker Kitty Green's first feature, a doco about Ukranian topless feminist protestors Femen, premiered in Venice.

Femen, the Ukrainian equivalent of Pussy Riot, certainly know how to make an impact.

"What they do can be seen as a kind of theatre," says Australian filmmaker Kitty Green, whose documentary about Femen drew a strong, keen audience at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday.

"But they don't mind how many people are on the streets. They care how many cameras there are. They're a PR movement in a lot of ways."

Kitty Green, 28, was visiting her grandmother in Ukraine when she first called the Femen collective to ask if she could shoot some of their protests.

Soon she became their in-house videographer, shooting protests every day or two and sharing a flat with the four women who were the heart of the movement.

They were in Venice too, looking dazzlingly blonde and made up like movie stars.

They take their clothes off, says an activist called Inna, because women's bodies are frightening.

When men see naked women, whom they are used to seeing only their beds, out of control in the streets and screaming against them, they are really afraid.

Green stayed with Femen for 14 months.

It was this intimacy that allowed her to get to the heart of the organisation and its odd Svengali Victor, who had moved in on the nascent movement, taken over fund-raising, planning actions and picking the prettiest girls to put in front of the camera: as they all now admit, he was the patriarch in a movement against patriarchy.

As she was shooting, Green's constantly engaging film became the story of Victor's defeat.

"We decided to trust her and show her all of our life," says Inna.

"It was something like a revolution; for other people who see this film, they will see that you can kill this patriarchy inside yourself."

Having grown up in an artistic family in Melbourne, she says she was startled by the extent of the gender divide in Ukraine.

"Women stayed at home and were quiet, not allowed to speak up. And seeing the police there was a whole other thing. Even the press there were really brutal with me – they would push me and shove me and throw me down – and the police would push me around too. I was shocked by what went on."

In one of the film's most hair-raising sequences, they relate how they were kidnapped by the Belarus secret police, dumped in the forest near the border and told to find their way home through the trees.

Kitty Green was seized too, but taken by the KGB and deported.

Paris is now the centre of Femen.

Four of the Ukrainians are now based there, but they stress that it is now international, with about 300 "sextremists", as they call themselves, around the world

After Belarus, says Green, she thought about giving up and going home.

"But I came back to Kiev and the girls were like 'I'm not scared of anything any more; let's go'.

There were men following us in vans; you learn what fear is.

I couldn't go to the ATM because my back would be turned and I couldn't keep my eyes on who was behind me.

You learn a lot about how to keep yourself safe.

But if the girls were going to keep practising, I was going to stay on.

"I think when you're surrounded by strong people and that atmosphere," she adds, "then you rise to the challenge."

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald