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 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.
Niccolò Montanari: Everybody Knows feels like a very personal piece. Creating work to express your opinion about a war that is currently taking place and in which you are personally affected must have been challenging. Can you share with us the story behind Everybody Knows? When did you feel you had to say something about the war and why did you went for this format—a music video—to express yourself?
Daria Geller: I was only 22 when I left Russia, and I can’t say that I was very much interested in politics. I was in film school, attending protests here and there, but otherwise existing in a bubble. Everything changed after the war broke out. At that point, plenty of ideas came to me straight away and I felt the urge to bring them to life. I’m fully aware that the world moves on quickly and news of the war gets old fast for those who aren’t immediately affected by it, that’s why I wanted to create something poetic and simple, something visual, relatable, and above all undeniable. But I also wanted to make sure the format would be something short and digestible in a popular medium. Of course, Leonard Cohen’s timeless song added another layer to the whole piece.
NM: What stands out in Everybody Knows is the simplicity and repetition of the shots. As a viewer one could interpret the idea that nothing changes; society is still passively watching the same unlawful actions being repeated over and over again. Was that your intention? And can you take us through the different shots—the man lying down, the birds, the women watching, and the final shot with the hand—and how you picked these?
DG: Of course, nothing ever seems to change. Even when this terrible force is bearing down on us, it seems like there is nothing left for us to do but silently accept a pre-established fate. The repetitive shots of the young man lying in the middle was the image I first had in mind and for a while I initially thought that would be the main focus of the video. The hand was inspired by the crazy location we picked—an old funeral home in Tel Aviv with a symmetrical hole in the ceiling. Eventually, I thought this would not be enough, there would need to be a crowd, so I added the group of women silently allowing it all to happen. They know what is coming but do nothing to stop it. The birds were the last touch, a symbol of hope for a better life that ultimately no one will ever be able to enjoy, but that they somehow believe is still possible.
NM: The music video is shot on film. Why did you decide to do so? What does that add?
DG: I love shooting on film, but I usually don’t manage to convince others—although it’s trendy again, it’s quite a risky approach, especially in a country with no lab to develop the film. However, as the project was made completely independently, I made up my mind and allowed myself to do it. And I believe it was the right choice, as it really suits the story. The colours are so much deeper and richer, the image feels alive. In the end, you have an image that is timeless and more visceral and that’s exactly the feeling I wanted to convey — this is real and it’s happening now, right in front of our eyes.
NM: What’s particularly interesting about this project is the community behind it, formed by Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian artists fleeing from their respective countries as a result of the war. How did you bring them all together? What was the feedback for the project? And how did you direct them to ensure they understood your vision?
DG: Yes, most of the crew are new immigrants. I wanted the video to be made by people who care. While some of the members of the crew are good friends and amazing professionals like Yuval Orr, Anna Pereleshina, and Yan Yasinsky, others – like Sonya Goryacheva, Katrin Tublin, and Yulia Gavrilova – are new immigrants from Russia and Ukraine that I was lucky to meet in the last year and a half thanks to the community we’ve created in Tel Aviv. I was genuinely amazed by how people responded and wanted to be part of the project. The challenge for me was not to let them down in coming together to speak about this painful topic.
NM: Can you share with us the biggest challenge you faced in this production and how you overcame it?
DG: The biggest challenge was overcoming the fear of creating a piece that would be identified as anti-regime (in Russia). What if it wasn’t saying everything or what if it didn’t come across as we intended or if it hurt someone? In the end, I realised I couldn’t grasp the entirety of this horrible truth, but what I could do is shed light on how I personally feel about it. Let it be read in the wrong way, let people not agree — what mattered is that it had to be out there. When the film was released my grandmother called me to say, “It’s beautiful, but please don’t come back anytime soon.” So yes, there was also this kind of fear, but that’s exactly what the regime wants, isn’t it?
NM: What’s next for you?
DG: I’m really excited about creating more projects like this. I am currently developing a feature film project that explores the themes of Everybody Knows even further. Apart from that, my life partner Yuval and I are working on building an art residency in Italy through our production company No Man’s Land. It’s a way for us to provide a space for artists to thrive and express themselves within a diverse creative community