Yula’s Dream is a film about human dignity and resilience. It is a vibrant story, which instills a unique perspective in the viewer—illustrated by a quote from Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths: “Everyone, my friend, lives for something better to come.”
It is an extraordinary, thirteen-year personal journey about one of the bleakest urban places in the world: a large “svalka” outside of Moscow. The largest garbage dump in Europe is where our story takes place. It is a fenced-in area where no one is allowed entry—except the garbage trucks that come and go with a chillingly robotic regularity. And yet—people manage to live here, including eleven-year-old Yula, our protagonist. Yula grows up in this forbidden land, and yet she laughs, falls in love, and puts on makeup to be alluring. She dares to dream of getting out one day...
The svalka is vast and immense. Its newcomers look here for normalcy—for food, for shelter, for survival—unaware of the dark side of the place. Yet when one enters its territory, one is sucked in by its quicksand, becoming a slave employed by a local mafia that runs the dump’s illegal recycling centers: the only game in town.
The svalka is Yula’s country, where she lives behind its fences and concrete. In this strange country a bottle of vodka is currency and corrupt police keep unwanted people—such as journalists—out, in order that the dump’s criminal activities may continue unchecked.
The Russian dump feels strange and foreign—almost another planet. Life here is grim and depraved, but it also brings out the best in people as they share their last nub of bread and open the doors of the small huts they call home, even—or especially—during the cold Russian winter nights. It’s a place where Yula and her friends share the same fate—a primeval struggle for survival—and where the only thing left is the enduring human bond. The beautiful and gleaming city of Moscow beckons from afar, its lights and splendor on the other side of the fence winking cheeky opulence to the depraved denizens of the svalka. This is a world Yula can only dream of and glance at from far away, from the immense city of garbage that is her home. Through people waxing philosophical over tea—and/or vodka—in their flimsy cardboard huts set between mountains of trash, through moments of heightened emotion, including love—which we witness over a period of years—we get very close to Yula and Yula’s friends: amazing, warm, funny characters. Through Yula’s thirteen-year journey, we are witness to her struggle to fulfill her dream of having a life outside the svalka’s walls. Does Yula have what it takes to survive the svalka? And does she have what it takes to get out?
In 2004, Hanna Polak received an Academy Award nomination and numerous other awards for her documentary film The Children of Leningradsky, a stark 35-minute observation of destitute Russian children surviving on the streets of Moscow.
Polak's latest documentary Svalka - Yula's Journey, currently in production, follows 13 years in the life of Yula who grew up with other mostly young people at a landfill near Moscow.
The project received the 2012 East Doc Platform Award given to best presentation at the East European Forum 2012.Learn more about Hanna Polak's projects on her website.
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