• Flash Competition



Daryna Mamaisur

There are things that are indescribable and unspeakable when the disasters that affect our lives are beyond comprehension. Certain fundamental experiences seem irreducible to any form of expression. So how do we convey their intensity? How do we put them into words? Here, we’re talking about the war inflicted on the Ukrainians for over a year. Daryna Mamaisur is Ukrainian and currently lives in Portugal. O Fumo do Fogo, somewhere between a film diary and an essay, sketches with admirable reserve a path towards the possibility of communicating. The director gathers together images in the same way she gathers her thoughts, to find herself. As she learns the Portuguese language, she invents a poignant visual alphabet made up of varied materials brilliantly put together: vibrant close-ups of the drawings in her textbooks, a naïve world of blue, yellow and red, photos and recordings sent to her from Kiev like tragic postcards, her own archives, and footage of language lessons. The prospects of her loved ones under bombardment is answered by the absurd and innocent simplicity of the phrases recited in Portuguese. As she tentatively approaches the Portuguese language, Mamaisur does the opposite of stammering. On the contrary, it’s in the elementary precision of words tasted for the first time in a foreign language that their full meaning may lie. Some words resonate more than others – zangar means “anger”; zunia translates as “buzz”, evoking the sound of war. In the poetic and poignant puzzle of O fumo do Fogo, these words become an exile’s personal details.

Claire Lasolle


1) When Ukraine was invaded in 2022, you were part of a university course far from home. How did cinema help you get through this ordeal and these difficulties?

The full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine caught me while I was starting my semester in Brussels. My world shattered during that spring. There was a common observation that many Ukrainian filmmakers shared back then: you had zero desire to film, and it felt very helpless to produce images that would never be able to compete with the horrific images of the war. Still, since I was in studies, it was important for me not just to drown in all that news, but to keep going, be active and use all the available tools to speak up about my country. I made the film called I Stumble Every Time I Hear From Kyiv.

When I was working on Smoke of the Fire in the autumn of 2022, it was already a bit different. The war kept going but some perverse routine has already developed around it. I was in Lisbon during my last semester, and by the end of the studies you could already start to feel anxious about the upcoming decisions you would have to take. I did not dare to come back home during the year and it turned into a certain burden. Lisbon-Kyiv is a pretty long and expensive journey, and I could not imagine going back home for the first time during the full-scale war and being in a rush for filming. So, I decided to focus on my current situation. I felt it would be more honest to talk about things which are familiar to me personally. And my routine was like this: you wake up to the news about shelling in the neighbourhood you grew up, but still, you want to go and find some plants for your newly rented flat. You feel safe but your mind is never calm.

2) As in I Stumble Every Time I Hear From Kyiv, you question the possibility of talking about war and your own experience of the situation. When did you start filming your Portuguese lessons, and how did your film come about? Can you speak about the different stages of the writing?

I started to learn Portuguese during my first semester. At that time, in 2021, I applied for my student residence permit and because of some troubles with the migration office, the card was not coming and I was stuck in Portugal for the whole summer. I was killing time, I was not sure if I’ll ever come back to Portugal, but I started to learn Portuguese while reading books, and noting down the words I liked the most. The word “zangar” fascinated me – the way it sounds so nicely resonates with the expression of anger. My Portuguese flatmate introduced me to the word “zangão”, the drone bee. She gave me a task to write a small text with this word.

Once I went to the post office to check if accidentally, my residence card was not lost in delivery. The worker suddenly got so mad and started shouting at me so loudly (in Portuguese), everyone was looking, I felt so embarrassed. The worst – I could understand what she is saying but I could not reply. This situation made me think about how one feels fragile in the foreign language especially if you are perceived as a migrant. During those months, I kept thinking also about the emancipative power of anger, when someone hurts you, the pain takes over, and only coming back to your core and boundaries allows anger to appear.

A year later, I looked at this text with a new perspective. Surprisingly, it resonated with the feeling of exile and justified anger, and I wanted to keep it in the film. The other part, in Ukrainian, I was writing simultaneously while editing. I directed our Portuguese lessons in terms of vocabulary and tasks. Sometimes the teacher suggested some exercises, we did them once and then I asked to repeat them for the film. I wanted to keep the lessons around topics of home, everyday objects and the environment. I filmed two or three classes precisely for the film.

3) Editing plays a very important role in O Fumo do Fogo, creating intervals, gaps and echoes. Can you tell us how you went about it?

The editing process was too fast and felt almost delirious. I knew that I wanted to experiment with different media, but I wasn’t sure how they all would go together. I had the Portuguese lessons, some footage from my MiniDV camera, my mom’s photos and the images from the school book I found at the flea market. I never did animation before, but this book was full of images that resembled the war in my distorted imagination. In the learning process, repetition is important and I wanted to use it also in the editing. I wanted to play with naming, with association between images and words. Somehow it defined the whole rhythm.

4) You incorporate images and sounds sent to you by your relatives still in Kiev. Was this a mode of communication that you’d established for the film? Can you tell us about this kind of correspondence?

(We try to convince foreigners to write Kyiv, not Kiev since the last version is transliterating the russian pronunciation of the city echoing its imperial impositions)

I don’t remember how my mom began sending me images from our balcony. I noticed how calm and careless the cityscape is in those photos compared to daily news about attacks on Kyiv. I asked her to keep sending me those photos. I liked how similar and monotonous they are. The war kept going, but the photos captured only the change of seasons. In autumn 2022, russian forces started massive attacks on the electric facilities in Ukraine. There were problems with thr mobile connection because of the blackouts and power cuts. The balcony was also the only place where my mom could catch some mobile internet and communicate with me.

5)You take charge of the voice-over, some of which is in perfectly mastered Portuguese. Why did you choose to use this language and to use it in this way as you relate a learning experience ?

I must say many people ask me this question and I don’t have a clear answer. While making the film, I also rethought the idea of the ‘correct’ and ‘wrong’ language, especially in the case of the countries which are former colonizers. The way people speak Portuguese is so diverse that even my subtle accent sounds like a perfect pronunciation for someone. Ukrainians are one of the biggest migrant communities in Portugal since the construction boom of the 90s. I often heard that they manage to learn Portuguese almost without an accent. Maybe, unintentionally I wanted to follow this legend.

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

Portugal, Ukraine, Belgium, Hungary / 2023 / 22’

Original version: Ukrainian, Portuguese
Subtitles: English
Script: Daryna Mamaisur
Photography: Shaheen Ahmed, Daryna Mamaisur
Editing: Daryna Mamaisur
Music: Anna Khvyl
Sound: Ghada Fikri, Tetiana Usova

Production: Frederik Nicolai (DocNomads)
Contact: Daryna Mamaisur (-)


Smoke of the Fire
21’ 37’’ | 2023 | Portugal, Ukraine | experimental documentary

I Stumble Every Time I Hear From Kyiv
17’18’’ | 2022 | Belgium, Ukraine | documentary

Sometimes It’s Cool, Sometimes It’s Not
12′ 53” | 2021 | Portugal | documentary

a steppe with rabbits and pheasants running around, and where some even saw foxes. part 2
10’ 25’’ | 2020 | Ukraine | video

Revenge Comes First
12’ | 2015 | Ukraine | documentary