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By Rory L. Aronsky | May 1, 2005

While President Bush I went about his daily business in 1991, receiving briefings on the escalating situation in the Ukraine, Amy Grappell was there as part of an acting troupe that sought to present and celebrate the life of pioneer Ukrainian theater artist Les Kurbas in a bilingual production encompassing the American actors and their Ukranian counterparts. In fact, Grappell had arrived on the heels of celebration. It was enough to take great joy in being part of this production, “Light from the East”, but her camera soon captured the elation of the people of Ukraine, where Mikhail Gorbachev was soon to sign a treaty that would push more power into the hands of the republics.

Grappell roomed with Natalia Schevchenko, a theater historian, who becomes a hugely important part of this documentary. At first, it seems odd that Grappell doesn’t show a lot of footage of the rehearsals for this play, but then the parallels between Kurbas and the current situation grow. Soon the Ukranian people are in an uproar, to which Grappell awakens to, as it is learned that Gorbachev was booted from power, replaced by a military government calling themselves the “Group for Extreme Measures”. The drama here is in the words, in the concern running rampant through this troupe, even going so far as to affect member Peter McCabe so deeply that he heads back home just in case anything more dangerous should transpire. At the beginning, he’s already homesick, but this is enough to get him back there quicker.

Grappell is an amazing force in this documentary, as much as anyone else in it. In shaping it as she has, with the help of editors Kyle Henry and Leah Marino, it is not only a journey of expression, but also that of freedom, change, and new lives shedding themselves of the old ones. In this case, it’s about the end of being chained to the principles of the Soviet Union. More than that, these Ukranians live heftier lives than we do. Everything that we want is available for us without fail. Looking at how they live, how they fight for their right to be people (they even go on a massive march at the risk of death to proclaim their desire to be free of communism once and for all), they are heroes for the world. They want lives that they can live, not lives that are merely tolerable. “Light from the East” also makes note of what has amazed me over all these years. We live under the same skies, and we all are of the same types. With varying exceptions, we all have the ten-fingers-ten-toes package. We are either men or women. But this world truly is different everywhere. Consider seeing this at a film festival, in comfortable seats, watching these various political situations unfold. Indeed the world is very different in that way. People like Amy Grappell should be highly honored for showing those parts of the world that we do not know, despite news networks insisting otherwise.

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