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‘The Peasants’ Director On How The Production Had To Battle Through The Ukraine War & Covid — Contenders Film L.A.

The Peasants would already be a daunting project in the best of times. Like their previous film, Loving Vincent, directors Hugh and DK Welchman oversaw a team of animators painting each frame of the film based on live-action reference material. Hugh, who came to Los Angeles from Poland just for his 12-minute Contenders panel, said The Peasants also had to work around COVID and the Ukraine War.

Between the pandemic and the war, The Peasants — which is Poland’s entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar — faced difficulty getting all of their painters in the same room.

“We can’t do stuff remotely,” Hugh said. “We have people sitting in front of easels with a whole lighting setup in each of the painting animation workstations.”

The Peasants recruited painters from Poland, Serbia, Lithuania and Ukraine and faced 20 percent inflation over the years of production. The Ukraine war cut much of the film’s staff in half.

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“We bought tickets for all the women, because the men were all of military age so they couldn’t leave,” he said. “All the women came to the border. They were with their elderly mothers or their children. We had to find them places to live, places for their kids to go to school.”

The Peasants was ultimately able to open their studio in Kyiv, but did not have consistent electricity.

“Our painters would work for an hour and a half and then sit their reading by candlelight for the next five hours waiting for the electricity to come back on,” he said.

Ultimately, the Welchmans sold some Loving Vincent paintings and launched a Kickstarter to buy a generator.

RELATED: ‘The Peasants’ Used Ukrainian Refugee Choir In Score For Poland’s Oscar Submission – Sound & Screen Film

Covid shut down the live-action portion of the shoot. One scene with 60 people had one positive test, and could not resume live-action filming for one year. Other live-action shots had to film outside of studio space.

“We had 10 percent of the film shot outside because we had a pitch battle with 60 actors and 12 horses,” he said. “In Warsaw they don’t have a studio big enough for it so we had to do it outside.”

The Peasants is based on the Nobel Prize-winning novel by Wladyslaw Reymont. Though required reading in high school, Hugh’s wife DK reread the book in her 20s and listened to the audiobook while working on Loving Vincent. She convinced Hugh they should adapt it for their next film.

“For me, it’s an amazing book about the human condition and human relationships,” he said. “Not only could it have been a village in 19th century Britain, but it could be a village 21st century Britain. I thought it was a universal story.”

The book and film is about a woman who married an older widower, but has an affair with his son. The Welchmans then convinced Penguin to produce an English language translation.

“We wanted to get a new translation done because the original translation was done by a Polish academic in the ‘20s,” he said. “He was a specialist in Elizabethan English. I had to read it with a dictionary. I wouldn’t say it’s easy reading but it’s worthwhile if you’ve got the time. I wouldn’t call it light reading but it’s rewarding reading.”

The Peasants is playing in Poland. It opens in New York for a qualifying run in December.

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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