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Film Review: Stop Zemlia
by Becky Tan

Kateryna Gornostai, Ukraine 2021

Seventeen-year-old girls Masha and Yana, as well as Senia, a boy, attend high school together. Good friends, they hang out and have fun playing badminton. They also play Stop Zemlia, a game in which one kid is blindfolded and tries to find the others without knocking over a beer bottle. There are long discussions about what makes a successful date and good / bad relationships. But Masha doesn’t really discuss whom she loves, nor does Senia. An unpopular topic, often brought up by Masha’s mother, is “What will you do after graduation from high school?” Sasha is also a boy in their class. He has a super strict mother, who hovers over him supervising his meals, his visit to the eye doctor, his piano lessons. We experience all four kids sitting in class, while the teacher drones on about the meaning of stress.

STOP ZEMLIA showed at the Hamburg International Queer Film Festival, but homosexuality is just a side topic, as part of growing up for a teenager. This is not specifically a gay film, although two girls kiss once and Sasha’s mother, curious about his relationships, asks, “Are you gay?” Extraordinary here are the excellent young actors, not only the lead players Maria Fedorchenko, Arsenii Markov, Yana Isaienko, and Oleksandr Ivanov, but 21 more youngsters, who were discovered at castings. Director Gornostal organized them into a workshop where they learned acting, helped develop the characters, and practiced their parts. Not only is this their first film work and director Gornostal’s feature film debut, but it is also winner of several prizes, including Best Film of the Youth Jury Generation 14plus at the 2021 Berlinale. It was brought to the Hamburg Queer Film Festival by Quarteera, an organization of Russian-speaking lesbians, gays, bi-and trans in Germany.