Evgeny Afineevsky, Oscar-Nominated Documentary Filmmaker

Kevin Goetz is joined by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky. The pair discuss Afineevsky’s unlikely journey from childhood in the Soviet Union and Israel to becoming an Oscar-nominated director. Afineevsky shares behind-the-scenes stories about making powerful documentaries like Cries from Syria, Winter on Fire, which turned the world’s attention to the rising conflict in Ukraine, and Francesco, which offered him rare access to Pope Francis. He also provides insight into his filmmaking philosophy and drive to create documentaries that educate, inspire action, and work as tools for positive change in the world.

From the former Soviet Union to Israel and an early mentor in Menahem Golan

Starting from his childhood fascination with filmmaking in the Soviet Union, Evgeny describes seeing rare foreign movies in Russia during the 1980s, like Gone with the Wind, that offered a glimpse outside the USSR. After moving to Israel, Afineevsky recounts meeting Menahem Golan and coming to Hollywood in the 1990s.

Oscar nomination for Winter on Fire and meeting Volodymyr Zelenskyy

The pair discuss Evgeny’s transition to highly impactful documentaries like the Oscar-nominated Winter on Fire and how Afineevsky first met Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2016, years before he became the president of Ukraine.

Documentaries and PTSD

Afineevsky describes the risks he took to make his documentaries, and how the effects of making these films in war zones caused him to develop PTSD.

It’s a tough thing. Like every soldier, you have PTSD, and you are trying to deal with this, but at the same time, as a filmmaker, you’re seeing how important your job is and how important what you do because you become an inspiration to the people. Your stories become inspiration. You are able to inspire people to do good things.

— Evegeny Afineevsky

A close relationship with Pope Francis

Afineevsky shares how he developed a close bond with Pope Francis and how he gained unprecedented access to him for the documentary Francesco. Afineevsky describes Francis becoming godfather to his son and their personal friendship.

Afineevsky on deciding to make Francesco

I was seeing a lot of disasters around us growing, and at the same time, I hoped to change things from climate change to refugee to migration because of Syria to Middle East, to the social issues with the women empowerment that Hollywood was trying to bring up and empower women, give them more visibility in different aspects of, for example, sexual abuse, which I saw a lot in the church. And at the same time, the civil unions and the gay marriages and everything. I wanted to find the way I can connect all these things together and find hope. And then somebody said to me, what about Pope Francis?

Making movies that matter

The pair discuss parenthood and how having a child motivated Afineevsky to make movies that can change the world.

We, as filmmakers, we can educate the world, we can bring the truth, we can bring the spotlight on the issues and change them, and it’s us who can create a better future for our kids.

— Evgeny Afineevsky

Upcoming projects

Afineevsky talks about his most recent documentary about Ukraine’s fight for freedom, Freedom on Fire. He also mentions potential upcoming projects, including one about Ukrainian children abducted by Russia.

Tune in to hear this compelling interview with acclaimed documentary director Evgeny Afineevsky, which provides an intimate glimpse into his inspiring life journey, from gaining unprecedented access to Pope Francis for Francesco to making Oscar-nominated films like Winter on Fire. Afineevsky offers wisdom on documentary filmmaking and shares his vision for how movies can raise awareness of global issues to drive positive change in the world.

Don’t Kill the Messenger, hosted by movie and entertainment research expert Kevin Goetz, brings his book Audienceology to life. This bi-monthly podcast takes a peek behind the filmmaking curtain as Kevin talks with famous filmmakers, studio executives, stars, and other creatives about movies, filmmaking, audience test screenings, and much more.

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