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‘Bitter Harvest:’ Romance during the Holodomor

Director George Mendeluk invited people to “enter the world of the lovers” at Fresno State CineCulture’s screening of “Bitter Harvest.”

“Bitter Harvest” is about Yuri’s (played by Max Irons) struggle against Stalin (played by Gary Oliver) and the Holodomor, a man-made famine that took the lives of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s, to save Natalka (played by Samantha Barks), his lover.

Mendeluk said he made the movie to make people aware of the Holodomor.

“My mother and my aunt went through it, so I grew up as a child listening to some of the horror,” Mendeluk said. “This [‘Bitter Harvest’] is more than the making of a movie for me. This is a calling.”

Mendeluk added: “This is really the darkest secret that exists in modern history. The reason this is a look back in the past is to have our spiny feelers out for the same kind of things that are perhaps happening now.”

The screening took place on Friday in the Leon S. and Pete P. Peters Educational Center Auditorium.

Monica Goatz said “Bitter Harvest” taught her things she missed in her modern history classes.

“I definitely recommend it to my fellow peers,” Goatz said. “Even though some aspects of the film were horrific and may impact children, we have to learn about the history in some way and realize that.”

Fresno State student Ivan Ignacio said he thought the movie was exceptional.

“It opened up my eyes,” Ignacio said. “I never knew about all the genocide that was going on in this world and the history.”

Ignacio said he didn’t expect the director to speak at the event, but it was good to hear background information from him.

He said the scene where the devotional icon (which symbolizes the farmers’ faith) was shot was a significant moment.

“It seemed to create the feel that love did conquer all,” Ignacio said. “That bullet hitting the icon didn’t even touch them, it just kept them going. It was remarkable. It completely reflected their culture and the people.”

Mendeluk said some signs of totalitarianism are censoring art and limiting freedom.

“What I want people to take away is that totalitarianism in any form ‒ whether it’s left, right or whatever you want to call it ‒ is a heinous, dangerous form of government, and we should see the signs,” Mendeluk said.

He said many in the free world don’t know many great artists from communist regimes.

“Why? Because they [totalitarian regimes] suppress freedom, and they suppress the individual and an artist is an individual,” Mendeluk said.

He concluded: “I think this film is going to outlast certainly me and all of us sitting here. I think it’s going to grow as time goes on.”