Oscar winner Michelle Mizner visits Cinema Center

By Noah Proffitt

The Cinema Center held a free screening of 20 Days in Mariupol and featured a Q&A with producer Michelle Mizner last month.

The film won best documentary this year at the 96th Academy Awards – the first time Ukraine has won an Oscar. The production covers the events witnessed by a team of Associated Press reporters trapped in the city of Mariupol during the first twenty days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, and producer Vasilisa Stepanenkothey captured the graphic damage the invasion caused and the lives that were lost during it. The film does not hold back from showing the violence and terror happening in the region, leaving audience members shocked and moved by the scenes displayed.

In the film, news broadcasts from around the world use the footage that reporters filmed while in Mariupol. News reports from Russia showed how they accuse the footage of being fake news or that the people trying to survive in Mariupol are paid actors.

After the screening of the film, Cinema Center held a Q&A with Mizner, the editor and producer of the award-winning documentary, and Ann Livschiz, professor in the department of history at PFW. Audience members were able to ask questions about the film, and news on Ukraine now.

Mizner works for Frontline, a television series produced by PBS covering a vast number of topics. There, she edits hour-long documentaries for the show. With 20 Days in Mariupol, it was her first time working on and editing a feature length film.

Mizner worked closely with Chernov, who was one of the cameramen capturing the footage and is the director of the project.

Mizner mentioned that she was working with Chernov directly via satellite phones during the twenty days. He would send the footage over whenever they had access to satellite connection.

At the same time, Chernov and his team were also trying to avoid the Russians, risking their safety to inform the world of what was really going on in Mariupol.

She describes the work process with Chernov as “making an album.” She says she was the “producer” of an album and Chernov was the artist “who brings vision or something integral to them.”

Mizner mentioned how much the film means to Chernov and the rest of the reporters who captured the footage. The camera crew are all from Ukraine and were deeply affected by what they witnessed and went through.

Mizner mentioned her own connection and passion for helping create the documentary.

“There are many things that I hope,” Mizner said. “One of those things I hope is journalism. We think about journalism, and what it takes to make good Journalism, and the risk they take to gather that information.” 

When Chernov came to the United States, both were able to finish the film with the footage they had. They were able to put out the message and facts in the film from the footage they gathered, to let people know what was really happening in Mariupol.

The event was held at the Cinema Center, a not-for-profit theater that shows a wide range of independent films and hosts unique events. Every year, they host their own film festival “Hobnobben,” showing local independent films and others from around the country.

The Center has held multiple events like this in the past, showing a movie, then holding a Q&A afterwards, with people who are educated on the topic. The goal is to allow citizens and audience members to engage with the material and ask their own questions, creating a space to hold important conversations.

After the event, audience members formed a lengthy line to thank Mizner for her work and for coming to the Cinema Center.

Mizner mentioned that all Frontline films are available for free on YouTube.

“They are long formed and deeply reported documentaries,” she said. She strongly encourages others to check them out at Frontline’s website, as they are a terrific way to learn about America and the world.