In late 2019, UNESCO IITE and Visual and Performing Arts Center ART Corporation supported the creation of “II” (“Two”), a 60-minute drama about love, school, bullying, friendship, teen struggles and HIV. Produced by Belarusian director Vlada Senkova, the film is central to a region-wide campaign to prevent HIV and combat stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, during the the two years since its launch, “II” has been viewed live by audiences and film critics in countries from Sweden to South Korea, while its release on major Russian-language streaming services in the EECA region attracted more than 300,000 online viewers. In total, some 1.5 million people have been reached by the campaign on the internet, including social media.
“A film on how things went wrong for a group of high school students”
The film features Sasha, Nastya and Christina, 16-year-old tenth-grade students who live ordinary teen lives, attending school and taking lessons from private tutors, going to movies and having fun at parties. But one day, an unexpected event shakes their lives, overturns their worldview and reveals the hidden fears and biased attitudes of other people. How free from prejudice are young people? How far can they go in their intolerance of those who are different? Can adults protect children from risks and mistakes?
It took Vlada Senkova just six days to film this sincere and poignant social drama about living as a young person in a post-Soviet society. Starring in the film are young actors Alina Yukhnevich, Alexey Vainilovich and Ilaria Shashko.
Staying after classes and more
In 2021, a landing page (content in RUS) was created to provide a comprehensive edutainment resource for those wishing to explore the complex issues raised in the film.
The landing page allows visitors to go deeper into the story, e. g. by watching video interviews with the actors and viewing character questionnaires that have helped the actors embody their roles and can offer viewers an insight into their favorite character’s personality. In addition, there is a set of cards for each character designed to challenge common myths and misconceptions about a particular problem the character is facing, such as HIV, bullying, relationships with parents, etc.
Users can also “stay after classes” and take a test consisting of 14 difficult questions that the film’s main characters struggle with – e. g. how HIV is different from AIDS, whether pregnancy can occur from one’s “first time” and whether it is okay to disclose another person’s positive HIV status “for the public benefit.”
The film’s landing page is linked to other educational projects supported by UNESCO IITE in EECA countries, such as the Lovelogs mobile application about love and relationships; Eli, a chatbot that can answer questions about one’s body, sexuality and health; and DVOR, an educational media for young people about the psychology and physiology of growing up. Another key feature of the landing page is a collection of more than a hundred online and offline resources based in Russia and six other countries and providing information and support on topics such as HIV, sexual and reproductive health, violence, human rights, gender equality, and mental health.
And finally, the landing page provides links to major websites where one can view “II” and features the film’s backstage footage, festival track record, soundtrack and photos of the film crew as a “school yearbook.” The style and the landing page for “II” were designed by the Belarusian web studio SPARTAN.
“The film’s teen characters are faced with problems that few adults can handle well. We wanted to reflect this drama on the film’s landing page as well. This is how we got the idea of having the page look like a school notebook with teens’ comments – sometimes funny but other times really sad – scribbled on the margins. The landing page’s bright gradient colors echo the strobe lights of the disco featured in the film. And while the characters’ profile questionnaires may seem naive and somewhat nostalgic, they often reveal deeply held pain,” says Alexandra Ilieva, Project Coordinator at UNESCO IITE.
“It deeply touches your heart”
The teen drama “II” (“Two”) premiered internationally on 17 October 2019 at the Warsaw International Film Festival, receiving a Special Mention award from the jury. Overall, it has had ten screenings in prestigious film forums, including the Minsk International Film Festival “Listapad” (Belarus), “Human Dignity, Equality, Justice” (Belarus), “Bridges. East of West Film Days”(Belgium), the Zlín International Film Festival for Children and Youth (Czech Republic), “CinEast “(Luxembourg), “UKRAINA!” (Poland), The Göteborg Film Festival (Sweden), the Cottbust Eastern European Film Festival (Germany), and the Euro-Asian Film Festival (South Korea).
Natalia Serebryakova of Afisha Daily comments on Vlada Senkova’s directorial style:
“Her fresh perspective, the love with which she portrays her teen characters, and the rapidly evolving events – all of this really does the trick. Nothing in the film is redundant, not a single scene or frame can be taken out. This is a real drama that deeply touches your heart.”
Since 15 September 2020, the film has been available for online viewing on the region’s major streaming services, such as Kinopoisk, OKKO, Ivi, Start, MegaLabs, Wink, Beeline.TV, Premier, Dom.ru, Kino.1tv.ru, Smotri.mail.ru, Nonfiction.film, Aikino!, Voka TV, iTunes, Google Play, and others. The film’s digital release in Moscow was followed by a special screening as part of the Karo.ART project, where film critic Anton Dolin presented “II” to the audience and the press.
On World AIDS Day on 1 December 2020, the film premiered on television at TVRain.
“This is exactly what happens”
More than 1.5 million internet and social media users have accessed information about the film and related materials. And perhaps even more important results are the 300,000 online views of the film and positive feedback from viewers:
Tatiana Andreyeva: “While this film is about school, the problems raised are far from childish. Excellent acting, nothing superfluous”
Fairy-tale Sorceress: “Cool. Very cool. Time and again I see proof that simplicity is genius. I cried … This film should be screened during homeroom hours at school. Such things can happen … unfortunately, this is exactly what happens”
Distarneo: “… the film is truly excellent and grabs your attention from the first moments evoking all the right emotions. But most importantly, the film calls for open and meaningful communication between children and adults within the family”
marce1o: “Vlada Senkova and her team encourage people to speak openly about things which are relevant and urgent, including those considered taboo in society and avoided due to some unarticulated fear … It is a breakthrough, cutting-edge, far-reaching film that has come out at the right moment”
Publications about the film can be found by the hashtag #ТолькоПапеНеГовори [Please Don’t Tell Dad]. You can also follow the film’s official pages on Facebook, VKontakte and Instagram for updates. See the film’s landing page at https://film-two.me (content in RUS) for additional information about the project.