The table in Junus’s living room is big enough for a multigenerational family. But he is sitting there alone, surrounded by empty chairs. The sixty-year-old man, wearing sweatpants and a shapeless t-shirt, is watching the TV. He’s the only one left in the family home – all other members of the family have left, one by one.
Like thousands of other Tatars, Junus’s relatives have left their native lands after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. They treated the Russian flags waving over the peninsula as a forecast of oppression. Some Tatars were fired from their jobs, their leader Mustafa Dżemilew was subject to an exclusion order, the authorities prohibited meetings, listening to Ukrainian music on the bus could result in being beaten by other passengers, and some TV channels suddenly became unavailable. Crimean Tatars are gradually leaving their homes.
Aniela Astrid Gabryel’s documentary film tells the story of those who stayed. The members of a few families, related with each other, became the young director’s guides to the world of Tatars. Against all odds, they decided to stay in Crimea. Junus takes cares of flowers and talks to parrots all day; he contacts his loved ones only on Skype. A slightly younger man, a husband and father to a family, decides to stay in Crimea even after his wife and daughter have gone to the Ukraine. He stays to take care of the grandma, and old woman, who wants to spend her last days in Crimea.
It is thanks to the old woman, and another elderly member of the family, that we get to know the difficult 20th century history of Crimean Tatars, who were expelled en masse to Asia at the order of Stalin in 1944, and many of them were murdered. Those who survived could come back to their fathers’ lands only in the 1980s. Today they feel like history is coming a full circle. Admittedly, after the annexation of Crimea nobody has been banished from the country and forcefully expatriated to distant places, but Tatars once again feel like intruders on their own land.
Telling their story, Aniela Gabryel shuns the poetics of a TV report. Instead, the young director sketches intimate portraits of the characters. When Will This Wind Stop is not a story about political changes in Crimea, but primarily about empty rooms, abandoned people, and broken hearts filled with longing.
In one of the scenes, an old man is talking to his grandson on Skype. The boy asks him to bring him a toy; the grandfather goes to another room and shows the boy his favourite robot. After the conversation, he starts crying. There are more tears – on both sides of the screen. Gabryel is not afraid of strong images saturated with emotions. A father biding farewell to a teenage daughter leaving Crimea for the Ukraine, and a shot depicting an old woman whose eyes fill with tears as she is looking at the car lights slowly fading in the distance speaks more of the Tatars’ sorrows than media reports about the annexation of Crimea and Russian undercover soldiers.
When Will This Wind Stop turns out to be an immensely moving story about human perseverance and the price one has to pay for it. The price is loneliness, longing, broken family bonds. Aniela Gabryel’s deeply sad film is also a story about attachment to the land; about people for whom the smell of the wind and the view on the endless steppe are not merely elements of landscape, but a part of their identity.
When Will This Wind Stop / Kiedy ten wiatr ustanie, directed and written by: Aniela Astrid Gabryel. Cinematography: Oleksandr Pozdnyakov. Montage: Katarzyna Boniecka. Music: Tymoteusz Witczak. Artistic cooperation: Taras Dron. Artistic guidance: Jacek Bławut. Produced by Film Studio Everest, Belsat.
written by Bartosz Staszczyszyn May 2016, translation NS June 2016