Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz on Capturing the Story of the ‘Scream of My Blood’ Filmmakers Punk Group

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Eugene Hütz, founder and lead singer of the US gypsy punk band Gogol brothelHad his family not left the Soviet Union when he was 16, he would probably have become a painter with “dirty pants and long hair”.

“I would probably be a painter as my family has a more paved path to it,” he says. “I drew most of my childhood, and my uncle – Mikhail Mykolayev – is quite a famous painter who still lives in Kiev.”

I just got out of a short, impromptu solo guitar concert. Karlovy Vary Film FestivalAfter the international premiere of “Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello Story,” a new documentary about the group, Hütz lives up to the goal, even though the paint doesn’t splatter on his khaki cargo pants.

The singer was born in Kiev, Ukraine, but the Hütz family left behind years of Communist oppression and moved to Western Europe in the dying days of the Soviet empire. His father was always a misfit—something that caused problems in the Soviet Union—and Eugene says that even at the age of nine, teachers saw him as a dangerously independent thinker. But the meltdown at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 eventually forced the decision to leave.

At the age of 17, after living as a refugee in several countries, the family was granted a US immigration visa and settled in Burlington, Vermont. Already playing in proto-punk bands in Kiev, Eugene thought that his creative life had ended in the small New England city. But a walk down the main street, where several independent record stores are located, brought back hopes, and when it hit some young punk rockers, he expressed his joy with a heavily accented reference to the San Francisco punk band Dead Kennedys. The local kids looked at this strange newcomer in town and said “Sex…” which Hütz replied “Pistols”.

“The Scream of My Blood”
Courtesy of Vice News

The story told in “Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello Story,” directed by Nate Pommer and Eric Weinrib, is a small piece of the Gogol Bordello puzzle. The film, which was presented in a jam-packed Special Screening Thursday in the Bohemian Spa town from which the festival is named, became its European premiere after its world premiere at the Tribeca festival in New York last month. Karlovy Vary’s choice has historical repercussions for Hütz: Ukrainian-born writer Nikolai Gogol had visited the famous Grand Hotel Pupp in the Bohemian Spa town in 1845. Gogol’s visit on a brass slab set in the cobbled entrance courtyard, alongside other famous visitors such as Richard Wagner in 1835, Luis Buñuel in 1956, and John Travolta in 2013.

Proud of the mixed ethnicities and immigrant backgrounds of the group’s members, which include Asian, South American, and other Eastern Europeans, Hütz is also a relentless Ukrainian patriot and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in charity shows to support Ukrainian refugees. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country in February last year.

“Scream of My Blood” emerged from 20 years of footage of the band captured by Pommer. A close friend of Hütz’s, Pommer was working as an editor for Vice Media in New York when the Russian occupation began. Last year he reported that the band was invited to Uzhhorod, a town in western Ukraine on the border with Hungary, to play for the Ukrainian border guards. News moguls thought this was too cultural for hardcore news, but Beverly Chase, Vice News’ current VP of programming and development, saw the possibilities and hired Vice as a producer. Weinrib, who also works at Vice and has a documentary background (worked with Michael Moore on “Fahrenheit 911” and made a documentary about Roseanne Barr’s “gonzo-run for President” – “Roseanne for President”) was taken on board. Help shape the two decades of material that co-director and Pommer have already shot.

The result is a vivid tale of the wealth of a band that has braved time – and many member changes – for over 20 years to become a permanent international feature on the alternative music circuit. It’s also a detailed look at Hütz’s life, with documentary footage from the Chernobyl incident that precipitated the fall of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and the Maidan protests in Kiev and then Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.

Although the war in Ukraine marked “Cry of Blood,” Pommer says there were “many points I thought we could have made the film, but the Russian occupation made it urgent and timely to shoot it now.”

But the film is broader and deeper than that, Wienrib adds. As much as I’ve seen the movie about Gogol Bordello and the Russia/Ukraine situation, it’s also a love letter to immigrants everywhere – there’s a seat at the table for them no matter where they come from. The more they stay true to their roots, the more they enrich society as a whole.”

There’s plenty of music from the band’s live concerts in North America and around the world, insights into Hütz’s inner spiritual world (he spent several years in Brazil learning about mediation and other eastern spiritual practices), and backstories of key members of the band. .

Hütz, who often dismisses documentaries about musicians (with exceptions Nick Cave’s so-called documentary “20,000 Days on Earth”), “is now serving a purpose – the world finally needs to know where Ukraine is, what it is.” It is not Russia. At the same time, it shows that for nearly 20 years, it has always been a group that exhibits features of extreme anti-Russianism. He highlights his dislike for Russia by referring to historian and anthropologist Daniel Rancour-Laferriere’s controversial 1995 book “Russia’s Slave Spirit: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Pain.” Variety’s attempt to refer to Putin and those who opposed the war in Russia – known from the Variety reporter’s long-standing relationship with Russia – was quickly cut short.

But can music really make a difference during a war? Saying that Gogol Bordello plans to play in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities this year, Hütz insists there is some value: “Yes – a limited difference,” he says. “It certainly can’t change anything quickly, but it can provide a sense of direction to people who are completely lost: it can also inspire people – those who are already on a certain path – to move faster.”

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