The Songs of Old Europe – Ancient Belarusian Folk Songs

An intimate, rare look into a very different world that has been isolated for centuries, the world of Belarusian folks songs, which were kept alive for thousands of years and are still performed today by Belarusian villagers, but vanish rapidly with disappearance of the village life and their carriers.

  • Volya Dzemka
    Director
  • Volya Dzemka
    Producer
  • Volya Dzemka
    Writer
  • Jim Cissell
    Key Cast
    Critical Rescues-drama, Monumental AZ-PBS, Over New England-PBS
  • Aleksandr Aleinikov
    Cinematographer
  • Chris Mobley
    Cinematographer
  • Sara Mustelin
    Cinematographer
  • Jordan Swenson
    Cinematographer
  • Yulia Ruditskaya
    Animation
  • Anatol Tadorski
    Motion Graphics
  • Elena Aryshtaeva
    Poster Design
  • Nicholas S. Bubb
    Mixing and Mastering Engineer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary
  • Genres:
    Music, Culture, Folklore, Women, Native
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 6 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 9, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    25,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Belarus, United States
  • Language:
    Belarusian, English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Creation International Film Festival (CIFF)
    Ottawa
    Canada
    Best Feature Documentary
  • WorldFest Houston, April 2017, Official Entry
    Houston
    United States
  • XIV Cine Pobre Film Festival October Edition
    La Paz
    Mexico
    October 16, 2016
    South American Premiere
Director Biography - Volya Dzemka

Born and raised in Minsk, Belarus, Volya now resides in Seattle, Washington. She attended Belarusian State University from 1998 till 2002 where she studied Chemistry. In 2010 she graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle with a degree in Photography and specialized in fashion photography. She returned to the Art Institute to get her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, majoring in Digital Filmmaking and Video Production. Volya has worked as a producer, director, assistant director and cinematographer on a number of projects, such as short films, music videos and commercials.

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Director Statement

I fell in love with Belarusian folk songs when, as a student, I saw a group of young girls perform them. My mind was immediately consumed by the unfamiliar harmonies, some of which are based on the ancient Greek musical scales. That fascination lead me to produce and direct The Songs of Old Europe – Ancient Belarusian Folk Songs, the first ever English-language documentary about Belarusian folk songs. I am a native Belarusian who moved to Seattle in 2003, and myself perform these songs with my local group, VOLYA (“freedom”).

My country, The Republic of Belarus, is a home for 9.5 million people; it used to be part of the former Soviet Union and gained independence in 1991. Isolation, caused by geography and government measures during the Soviet times, forced the Belarusians to stay in their villages and kept the singing tradition alive up until this day.

Belarusian folk songs considered by ethnographers to be the oldest unaltered songs in Europe that are still performed until today. However, Belarusian language, songs and the people who sing them were looked down upon and mistreated, even in our own country. It makes me sad that even Belarusians don’t realize the significance of our songs. Before they completely disappear from our everyday life, I want to tell the entire world that these songs are invaluable. They are to Belarus what the pyramids are to Egypt. That’s no exaggeration. Some Belarusian folk songs originated during the same time period as the Egyptian pyramids and Babylon culture.

But change is coming fast. Political and economic shifts, technological progress and the devastation brought by the meltdown of the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl in 1986 have had an eroding effect on the Belarusian singing tradition. The folk songs are gradually disappearing, therefore making the documentary was a race against the clock.

I didn’t want to lose precious time waiting for funding and financed the film with my day-time job as a translator at Microsoft, personal loans and a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

After writing the script in 2011, I set out to Belarus, driving hundreds of miles along windings roads and past swamps in the back country, to film groups of elderly women, called “babushkas”. The presence of an American filmmaker made the babushkas very excited, they were honored and happy to share their heritage with the rest of the world.

While filming in Belarus, I witnessed the slow death of my homeland’s native songs first-hand. In the village of Polansk, which was a bustling place fifteen years ago, there were no cars or children on the streets, and only a few babushkas.

Even some of the babushkas in The Songs of Old Europe have passed away, before they had the chance to see themselves on screen. I’ve worked as hard as I can, so our babushkas will be able to see the film and know that people around the world will talk about them and listen to their songs before it’s their time to go.