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OKO announces the concept of its fifth-anniversary edition: National superheroes Taras Shevchenko and Hristo Botev in the spotlight

OKO International Ethnographic Film Festival keeps focusing on the ethnic diversity of the peoples worldwide and reflecting on humanity’s identity, history, traditions, threats, and future.

As we celebrate our fifth anniversary this year, we reflect on the journey to achieving our goals, which took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Despite our difficult formation history, we are proud to have gained experience and met incredible people. Our resilience and determination are the driving forces behind our success. 

During this period, we have established some traditions. In particular, we choose a design concept and slogan every year, focusing on what hurts us the most and what should be “highlighted” in the information field.

With the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, we have paid special attention to films about the consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the theme of struggle. That’s why the mottoes of the third (2022) and fourth (2023) editions sounded like “Our culture is our weapon” and “Heroes among us”, respectively. These were engraved on our awards — handmade clay bricks. (The awards for OKO were created by Ruslan Druk, a master of pottery art who joined the Armed Forces in 2022). The visuals were based on images of ancestors from old photographs and the fairy-tale hero Kotyhoroshko. Before the war, we used traditional multi-colored rugs with the slogans “Let’s unite, let’s not unify” and “Learn from others, don’t shy away from your own!” as well as colorful eyes with the message “Look at the world with different eyes!”.

We put these slogans on posters, programs, and merchandise and watch movies through this prism. This is how we write our history and define ourselves in the world.  This year, we have chosen Taras Shevchenko’s testament, “Keep fighting—you are sure to win!” as our slogan, which is especially relevant now. The modernized image of the poet once again leads the Ukrainian people and becomes the embodiment of struggle, resistance, and leadership, as Shevchenko is a national hero of all time.

We’d also like to emphasize the significant growth of OKO. Starting this year, we are officially a Ukrainian-Bulgarian festival, which doubles our cultural richness and audience. This allows us to celebrate our differences, similarities, and unity, drawing from the cultural sources of both countries.

In our visual materials, you will see the image of Bulgaria’s national leader, Hristo Botev, and the most famous excerpt from his poem, “He who falls in the fight for freedom, he does not die.” On November 1, Bulgaria celebrates the Day of the People’s Awakeners, those enlighteners, writers, revolutionaries, and leaders who “awakens” the nation through their activities. They are the bearers of the national idea, its defenders, whose contribution to public life raises a new wave of revival.

Therefore, we have chosen the awakeners of two nations who worked and struggled in almost the same historical period and have made an essential contribution to the national heritage of their countries. Furthermore, these figures are well-known in both Ukraine and Bulgaria. In Sofia, for example, there is a monument to Shevchenko. He is honored because of the impact on the formation of the literary tradition in Bulgaria in the 19th century. And in Odesa, there is a monument to Botev. He studied in this city for several years and then worked as a teacher in the village of Zadunaivka (now Bolhrad district of Odesa region).

We have placed Shevchenko and Botev in a modern cultural and historical context. We are sure they would have been friends and corresponded, perhaps writing posts on social media in which they would also have emphasized the struggle and defense of their people. What adventures would they have experienced if they were “here and now”? And what if they became guests at our film festival? Can you imagine?

We have chosen comics as a bridge between the past and the present. Pictographic signs used in ancient cultures (for example, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Aztec, etc.) evolved into medieval illustrations of saints’ lives; and comics, close to the modern form, and the term itself appeared in the 19th century, when Shevchenko and Botev lived.

Given the poetry of their work and the freedom-loving slogans that remain relevant, we assume they are modern superheroes, which is why we have selected them as the characters of the fifth edition of the OKO.

The concept was designed  by Lili Topor.

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