On Feb. 24, 2022, Cole Rutman sat in his residence room, staring at footage on his cell phone. Russia was invading Ukraine. And he felt helpless.
“There was such a big event going on, and I couldn’t do anything about it,” said Rutman, a second-year student studying creative arts and production. “For a bit, I believed I had no influence on a global situation, so out of my control.”
But as he sat in his film class, Rutman made the decision to help in the best way he knew how – using the creativity he’s honing at Western “to bring into the spotlight the voices of the people impacted by the war.”
He successfully pitched his project to the Arts and Humanities Student Donation Fund committee and worked with the Arts and Humanities internship program to build a production team of 25 fellow students from across campus.
Together, with Rutman as executive producer and director, they created Voices Documentary, a film sharing stories of Ukrainians who found safety in Canada.
Sharing stories of Ukrainians affected by war
The team first gathered this past February to lock down the vision before shooting in summer.
“Our mission was to give people across the country an up close and personal account of how war impacts innocent citizens and families around the world,” Rutman said. They also wanted to highlight the people and organizations making a difference in helping Ukrainian newcomers build a life in Canada.
Working through the Catholic Community Service of York Region, Ukraine We Help! Ukraine to GTA and the Ukrainian National Federation, Rutman reached out to individuals and families who fled to Canada from Ukraine. He conducted 21 interviews – using Google Translate.
“I remember being in this very compact apartment in Toronto, typing out questions and having voice command read them. It was difficult, but it worked out. I didn’t know what they were saying until we were editing,” Rutman said.
He relied heavily on Anastasia Fedorova, a fourth-year visual arts and media student who, in addition to being the team’s graphic and motion designer, helped translate the interviews.
“Being from Ukraine, this documentary is very personal and important to me,” she said. “Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine again in 2022, I felt lost and like I wasn’t doing enough to help my country. But this documentary gave me a chance to help raise more awareness about the war in Ukraine, what Ukrainians have been going through, and also share the voices of Ukrainian refugees who came to Canada. I was also so pleasantly surprised that there were many students at Western who were not Ukrainian, but still cared about the country and wanted to help lift Ukrainian voices. I’m very grateful to Cole and everyone else on the team for spending so much time and effort to produce this documentary.”
The Voices team also included students from arts and humanities, music, business management, information and media studies, social science and the Ivey Business School, who brought their unique skills and interests to the project.
Rutman brought his own expertise to the project as well. The 19-year-old has been writing screenplays since high school, winning awards in the Wiki Screenplay Contest and the Los Angeles Student Film Festival. He is also the current executive producer and creative director of TEDXWesternU. Yet, as the youngest on the team, he felt intimidated at first, leading older students.
“I was working with these talented and experienced superstars, two or more years older than me, and I was trying to figure out how to lead them,” he said. The best approach, he discovered, was to trust them to do their jobs.
“We had a public relations team, we had a music team, we had an animator. It was an incredible process to work with people from all over, with different backgrounds.”
Another highlight of the experience has been screening the film here at Western and for audiences that include Ukrainian newcomers.
“Seeing people with tears in their eyes, after watching the film, helped me understand what we, as Western students, could do. Newcomers – who weren’t in the film – were moved by it and felt represented. That’s when I realized the value of this project.”
Lifting voices through art
Rutman and his team are now in the midst of a marketing campaign for the film’s upcoming online release in December and working on submissions to film festivals across Canada, including the Toronto International Film Festival.
Rutman is also looking to continue his work telling stories and uplifting the voices of individuals affected by global events.
“In a war, people are often quick to choose sides. I believe there is a third side – the people who are impacted by it who have nothing to do with it. It’s a concern right now in the Middle East, it’s a concern in Ukraine. People who don’t create these problems are ultimately the ones impacted by them.
I seriously think Voices could give audiences that perspective, and it’s one people should hold. No innocent person should have to endure something they didn’t start.”