Frontline Filmmaking

Driven by compassion and a compulsion for storytelling, Jaie Petty made the bold move of entering Ukraine’s active war zone to create a documentary. The director looks back on his project thus far.

“I WAS SAT in my grandma’s house when the news about Ukraine broke. I thought, wars are happening all over the world, but this one was close enough I could actually help. So I phoned Chris Rogers, the DOP I create with most, and we were on a flight the next morning.”

After landing in Poland, the duo headed straight to the border. Friends in the media provided a lay of the land, then it was straight down to action.

“We rented a car and Chris drove over into Lviv. I wanted to go with him, but also saw the need to help refugees fleeing the country. They were coming across hundreds strong,” Petty remembers. “Chris and I started filming everything we responsibly could. We didn’t arrive with a subject in mind – we just knew we wanted to show the world what was happening, quickly realising the hardest-hitting issue was the struggle of the Ukrainian people.”

As important as a visual record is in such historic moments, Petty remained wary of any potential negative impacts. The documentary was secondary, with tasks like preparing food and transporting doctors occupying much of his time.

“For a lot of our production activity, we used local fixers, partnering up with Radioaktive Film – the biggest production company in Ukraine – early on. With their help, we had access to a long chain of local people, who assisted our work and helped us find stories. We wanted to try and keep money in their economy.”

After two weeks on the Polish side of the border, Petty knew he must reunite with Rogers in Ukraine. His timing couldn’t have been better.

“A friend of mine had donated a minibus to a local charity and I’d collected it from the UK myself. When we arrived, we discovered the military had begun its first bombing of Lviv that morning. We drove in, picked up Chris and another reporter, and got them out of the city.”

Two more months of providing assistance and collecting footage for the documentary ensued. Eventually returning to the UK, Petty and Rogers teamed up with production company Redeeming features, to put together all of the harrowing pieces they had collected.

“We decided to angle the documentary around something that always bothered me. The war began and everyone started talking about the refugee problem, but nobody had actually looked at the macro scale of the refugees, like they’re humans. I really wanted to put a spotlight on that,” Petty explains.

While kit seems like arbitrary minutiae within the context of a war, it is ultimately what makes the storytelling possible. Petty’s work is undeniably cinematic. Through this, it’s hoped that the message being carried is all the more impactful.

“Working in a war zone is not the same as any other shoot,” Petty says. “I come from a commercial background – and this is the first feature documentary I’ve directed. So, we went out there with the kind of cameras we would usually have. They were small – which was a benefit – but we soon realised that something a bit more advanced was needed.


“When I came back to the UK for the first time, there were no Sony bodies available at all. Thankfully, CVP managed to supply us with an FX9, FS7 and zoom lenses within a week, ready to take back. That’s what we’ve filmed on, and it’s on the ground in Ukraine right now.”


Petty’s need for specific tools is dictated by process. Far from the norm and purely documentarian, it’s been emotionally challenging for all involved.

“We’d meet refugees in the war zone, then follow them right out from Kyiv or beyond. One of the families ended up here in England. We travelled with another girl all through Europe to the Netherlands. This journey is our last: Chris is there documenting the struggles that are still going on today.

“We’ve captured a lot with the FX9, because it’s really compact. Many cinema cameras are very complex and there’s a lot that can go wrong. The Sony had everything we needed, including audio, in one self-contained package. The problem was, we’d separate to film the two sides of the stories, but then we’d each be alone as solo operators. New cameras were game changers in that sense. Plus, the image quality of the FX9 is incredible. In Chris’ exceptionally talented hands, down in the trenches, it’s been used to film some amazing footage.”

Petty’s appreciation for CVP is deep- seated. In the practical sense, it made this documentary possible; but looking beyond, it has fostered this young director’s career from the get-go.

“When I began working with CVP five years ago, I had no idea what a cinema camera did,” Petty recalls. “I’d come from events photography, but the team took me under their wing, mentoring me through the set-up and shooting process. I bought a Steadicam and they showed me how that worked. Shopping with CVP is not like buying kit from anywhere else. They look after you, going above and beyond.

“CVP facilitated my step up in career – I’ve got a lot to thank them for. They take me to numerous events, introduce me to loads of people and give me opportunities to speak about my work – like this. The company allows its employees to be great people. I love that, seeing others get an opportunity to live to their best potential.”

While his project continues, conversation must draw to a close – but one pertinent question remains. What inspired Petty’s immediate decision to involve himself in Ukraine, when so many others throughout Europe saw the situation unfold, filled with helpless dread?

“Maybe it was because I’ve got kids myself,” he ponders. “If the situation in Ukraine was happening here, I would want someone like me to come and help them. And if there’s ever a time, it’s now. The situation isn’t getting the media attention it was at the beginning; these are still very anxious days. I had the option of leaving Ukraine, but that’s not the case for many.”

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