Russian-Ukrainian Filmmaker Daria Geller Daring To Speak Truth To Power In Political Music Video

Still image from ‘Everybody Knows’

A little over one year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine and the world changed. Millions of Ukrainians were displaced, almost overnight, from their homes; entire cities were destroyed; all as the world watched. In Russia, state media dutifully got out the message: this was only a “special operation.” In the year that has followed, thousands have been arrested and jailed (or worse) for daring to call it what it really is: a senseless and brutal war.

‘Everybody Knows’ stands as a statement by a group of artists from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all of whom have fled their home countries in the wake of the war. Directed by Russian-Ukrainian award-winning filmmaker Daria Geller, ‘Everybody Knows’ is a short film, a music video and a political action about a terrible reality that many are now too afraid to speak about openly: so long as Russian society remains apathetic to what is being done in its name there can be no peace, and nothing will change. Set to the words of Leonard Cohen, the film shows us what happens when everybody knows, but no one does anything.

The video addresses the apathy and willful ignorance that has afflicted Russian society for too long. In it, a group of women stand and watch as a young man lies naked on the floor, ready to give himself up to false promises. Representing the individual, and therefore a meaningless number in the eyes of the regime, he finds himself being lifted up to the skies hoping to fulfill his duty, only to realize that he is nothing but a resource to be selfishly exploited. Shot on 16mm film using only natural light, the film’s seamless long shots are set against a motionless dark color palette enhancing its eerie feeling of stillness. As these images repeat again and again, the repetition deepens our understanding not only that everybody knows that things will seemingly never change – but that they don’t even care.

The film – produced by the independent production company, No Man’s Land, co-founded by Director-DOP Geller with her partner, Yuval Orr – is the work of established artists who fled their own countries in the last year and are now based in Israel. Their work is meant as a clear signal to the world and to their compatriots who have not, cannot or will not speak up: everybody knows the truth, and nothing can change until we acknowledge it.

Director Daria Geller working with lead actor Vladislav Zalivanski on set for ‘Everybody Knows’.

“When the war started, and not only my friends but total strangers from the filmmaking community started running away and coming to Israel, I created a group for filmmakers arriving in Tel Aviv to bring people together, which now includes more than 1,000 members,” Daria recalls, in a press release.

“I shared the idea of the video with the group, who were immediately onboard. Honestly, I was surprised by how many people volunteered to take part, because the fears about speaking up are so real; many will agree with you quietly but not be willing to attach their name to a statement, let alone to a work like this. I think it is our responsibility as artists to speak the truth, especially to the powerful, but in the end it’s not enough for us to speak alone: we need more voices to join the chorus against a senseless war and the lies that keep it going, which together claim new innocent lives every day,” she said.

‘Everybody Knows’ is ultimately more than just a commentary on the war in Ukraine. It is also a commentary on the state of our world, where the very nature of truth seems to have dangerously become a matter of opinion. While this was long true in Russia, where the individual never held any importance to the collective and where the state-run Pravda newspaper (literally, “truth” in Russian) daily published lies, ‘Everybody Knows’ is a warning call to push back against this global phenomenon of lies-as-truth, or disinformation, that threatens to swallow us all whole.

Knowing how vital it is to speak truth to power in moments of crisis, we had the opportunity to chat with Daria about her film and the message she wants to share with the world.

Where did your film career begin, and was there a particular film or piece of work that inspired you to become a director?

I started out and still work mostly as a cinematographer.  My career started very slowly and never really took off until I started to just create new work on my own. So more than anything I was inspired by the urge to explore my own style, to show what I can do. Later on it became about the need to speak up as well.

‘Everybody Knows’ highlights the work of a number of artists who have fled their homes, and have been impacted by war. How has art become an important medium during difficult times like these?

Art has always been one of the most important mediums to communicate the truth of difficult and happy times alike. I don’t know, if there was no art, how could humans survive any of this? It’s a way to process, to talk to a larger audience through stories, images, metaphors– to mirror our flaws, to grieve together or to laugh at ourselves. Self-reflection is important always, but especially in these strange times – and that’s what art is.

And the opening hand of any dictatorship is to make it a policy to destroy and ban art. Because art has a powerful effect, it has a universal language.

That’s why I think it is our responsibility as artists to think out loud and speak to the truth of the things we care about. And this “truth” is never full, at its best it’s our own and others can understand it, too. I could never hope to capture the entirety of the complex of the horrifying truth, but I can try to understand what I feel about it and shed light on that particular part of the larger truth.

As for this project– yes, more than half of the crew are immigrants who arrived since the war broke out in 2022. I felt unity on set. The unspoken search for justice, for clarity, the sense of community that we all lost.

Still image from ‘Everybody Knows’

How did you find each of the artists and put the film together?

After the war began a lot of people from Moscow started to arrive and they would write to me to ask about how the industry works, how to find a flat, how the banks work, everything. It became a bit too much, so I created a Telegram chat that began with 25 people and now has over 1,000. Soon people started meeting, creating, talking, learning how Israel’s banks and hummus systems work together. So while some of the crew members were old friends from Russia, like my classmate Yan Yasinsky, the rest I found through this community!

Although there is a lot of international media covering the war in Ukraine, how do you hope ‘Everybody Knows’ will share a unique perspective on the impact of this atrocity?

People got tired. I constantly hear: “Oh, is the war still happening?” Yes, it very much is. I just want to remind people about it in a way that can maybe cut through the noise. It’s a self reflection, a cry out in a simple and poetic form of a music video- short film and a political statement at the same time paired with a timeless song by Leonard Cohen. I am hoping that the simplicity of it will let those tired of the news be reminded of what is going on. It’s simple really: as long as we remain apathetic to what is being done in our name, nothing will change because change needs dialogue. This is my way, however small, of speaking up.

Award-winning director and filmmaker Daria Geller

We live in a world where there is so much misinformation being sold as the truth, and people in power distort lies and facts for their own gain. What do you hope this film will empower viewers to think about in regard to this dangerous “fake news” narrative?

The film shows how a single human is nothing to the system. We are actually just a part of it, and we are being led blindly. I don’t know what to do myself, and this film for me was just a cry into nothingness. I only know that it’s important to encourage yourself and your children to ALWAYS ask questions. Nothing else will bring change or help you to cut short through the fake news. And hopefully this kind of content will spark a conversation.

How did you come up with the title, and decide to use the famous Leonard Cohen words? What is the symbolism here?

I initially looked for an artist who’d be able to come up with their own song based on the concept of the video, but I didn’t have much luck. And then I heard Leonard Cohen on the radio and it hit me: “Everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied.”

Director Daria Geller behind the scenes directing actors and crew on the set of ‘Everybody Knows’.

A lot of artists and public figures have feared for their safety after speaking out against the war. Do you anticipate any safety concerns when you release this, and how do you prepare for this?

Of course the first instinct was to be scared. But then I realised that this is exactly what they want. And that’s exactly why I decided to do it.

The film is meant to be a political statement and a call to action. What do you hope people will be moved to do after watching?

It’s meant to be a cry out as I am watching two countries I love at war and not being able to do shit and also maybe being a part of that Russian world that has been watching it fall apart for years and has brought us to this point.

But if stories of this war will be heard from every corner – it’ll make people think and talk. That’s what I hope people will do and that’s what we need more of. Only this brings change.

You can follow Daria Geller on Instagram, and see more of her work on her website. Watch and share ‘Everybody Knows’ by clicking HERE.

Still image from ‘Everybody Knows’