Bitter Harvest (2017 film)

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Bitter Harvest
Bitter Harvest (2016 film).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Mendeluk
Produced by
Screenplay byRichard Bachynsky Hoover
George Mendeluk
Story byRichard Bachynsky Hoover
Music byBenjamin Wallfisch
CinematographyDouglas Milsome
Edited byStuart Baird
Lenka Svab
Distributed byRoadside Attractions
B&H Film Distribution Company, D Films Canada
Release date
  • February 24, 2017 (2017-02-24) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes
United Kingdom
Budget$21,000,000 (US) [1]
Box office$5.570,241 (US)

Bitter Harvest is a 2017 period romantic-drama film set in Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s. The film argues that the Holodomor was a genocide by communist dictator Joseph Stalin using food as a weapon through mass starvation as millions of Ukrainians died under forced collectivization of all farms and businesses owned by Ukrainians. The film stars Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Barry Pepper, Tamer Hassan and Terence Stamp.

The film was directed by George Mendeluk and written by Richard Bachynsky Hoover, based on Bachynsky Hoover's original story. Canadian-Ukrainian Toronto businessman Ian Ihnatowycz, the president of Generation Capital, was the sole financier of the film.


Inspired by actual events, Bitter Harvest follows two lovers, played by Irons and Barks, struggling with their kurkul grain farmer families to survive as Joseph Stalin's collectivisation campaign and purge of the independent grain farmers and their property and other crops is confiscated by Stalin's Red Army and henchmen in the Soviet Ukraine during the Soviet famine of 1932–33 that claimed millions of Ukrainian lives and hundreds of thousands of Kulak and anti communist resistors deported to Siberia slave camps and Gulags and executed en masse for nationalism and trumped up charges. Yuri, an artist from a family of revolutionaries, slowly becomes entangled with the anti-Bolshevik resistance at the Kyiv Ukraine Art Academy Kiev after an escape from prison, while his family and childhood sweetheart Natalka are crushed by Stalin's policies at home. He must race to defeat Commissar Sergei on his family farm – now a collective farm.[1]



Ukrainian Canadian screenwriter Richard Bachynsky Hoover conceived the idea and wrote the original rough draft and later final draft of the screenplay for the film during a 1999 visit to Ukraine.[1] During his subsequent research into his heritage, which included a 2004 visit to Kiev during the Orange Revolution, he learned that the Holodomor had yet to be dramatized in an English language film in order to be acknowledged by the global masses unaware of the genocide.[1] In 2008, Bachynsky Hoover sought financing for such a film from the Ukrainian Government and various Ukrainian oligarchs, who were not interested.[1] In 2011, he approached fellow Ukrainian Canadian investor Ian Ihnatowycz, who committed to financing the $21 million film in its entirety.[1]

The film was originally titled The Devil's Harvest.[2][3] Filmed on location in Ukraine, the film's cast includes Barry Pepper, Tamer Hassan and Terence Stamp. In his attempt to help uncover certain parts of Kremlin history, producer Ian Ihnatowycz stated, "Given the importance of the Holodomor, and that few outside Ukraine knew about this man-made famine because it had been covered up by the Kremlin regime, this chapter of history needed to be told in English on the silver screen for the first time in feature film history."[2][4]

Filming began in Ukraine by November 15, 2013.[5] On February 5, 2014, Variety reported that the shoot had just ended in Kiev.[2] Several local crew took part in the simultaneously held Euromaidan demonstrations.[1]

In early 2014, post-production continued at London's Pinewood Studios, using the official James Bond filming tank for under-water filming. Skyfall editor Stuart Baird and SFX teams worked on the film in post production.


The film was acquired by Roadside Attractions for a 1st quarter 2017 US release.[6] Roadside Attractions released the film in the US on February 24, 2017. "D" Films Canada will launch Bitter Harvest on March 3 in Canada as well as many other film distributors who have bought the rights for the film in major countries globally who will also launch the film during the first quarter of 2017.


Box office[edit]

The final US box office sales were $5,571,241. Its widest release was in 127 theaters but screened in various venues in more than 100 countries in 2017/18 [7]

Critical response[edit]

Bitter Harvest received generally negative reviews."On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 13% approval rating, based on 55 reviews. The consensus states, "Bitter Harvest lives down to its title with a clichéd wartime romance whose clumsy melodrama dishonors the victims of the real-life horrors it uses as a backdrop"[8] Sheri Linden of the Los Angeles Times called the film "utterly devoid of emotional impact".[9] Several reviews agreed that the film would raise awareness but did not do justice to the subject matter,[9][10][11][12][13][14] with Peter Debruge of Variety stating that "there can be no doubt that the events deserve a more compelling and responsible treatment than this."[15] George Weigel of the National Review wrote that "the film, while perhaps not great cinema, succeeds in personalizing the Holodomor and reminding us that this genocide happened".[16]

Michael O'Sullivan wrote for The Washington Post, "The Holodomor – an early 1930s famine in which millions of people in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, are said to have died when their foodstuffs were confiscated by the central Soviet government under Joseph Stalin – could have made for a tale of great, stirring tragedy on the silver screen. 'Bitter Harvest,' alas, is not that movie."[17] The Ukrainian American Coordinating Council (UACC) criticized O'Sullivan's review for seeming to deny that the Holodomor was a man-made famine;[18] The Washington Post later posted an editor's note clarifying that the Holodomor was "an act of genocide", and parts of the review were re-written.[17]

Among more positive reviews, Adrian Bryttan of The Ukrainian Weekly praised the film: "Director George Mendeluk is first and foremost a master at directing the films original creative force screenwriter Richard Bachynsky Hoovers screenplay, breathing vivid life into the nuanced characters in his epic-romance ... Richly layered and rewarding repeated viewings, Bitter Harvest is the world-class Ukrainian art film of our time."[19] The Sydney Morning Herald called the film "a rousing tale with political pertinence",[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "A Love Story Set Amid The Holodomor, Ukraine's 20th-Century Famine, Hits The Big Screen". Radio Free Europe. February 4, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Barraclough, Leo (February 5, 2014). "White Queen Star Max Irons Finishes Ukraine Shoot for Devil's Harvest". Variety. Retrieved February 7, 2014.
  3. ^ Trumbore, Dave (February 4, 2014). "First-Look Images from THE DEVIL'S HARVEST Starring Terence Stamp, Max Irons, and Barry Pepper". Collider. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  4. ^ Francis, Diane (October 14, 2015). "New Movie Reveals Russia's Attempts to Destroy Ukraine". Atlantic Council.
  5. ^ Mitchell, Wendy (November 15, 2013). "Max Irons, Samantha Barks go for Harvest". Archived from the original on November 19, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  6. ^ McNary, Dave (August 9, 2016). "Max Irons-Samantha Barks' Ukraine Drama 'Bitter Harvest' Bought by Roadside". Variety. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  7. ^ "Bitter Harvest". Box Office Mojo. April 22, 2017.
  8. ^ Bitter Harvest at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. ^ a b Linden, Sheri (February 23, 2017). "Tragic story of the Holodomor is amazing in this historical drama Bitter Harvest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  10. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (February 23, 2017). "Review: Bitter Harvest Offers a positive lesson about Ukraines 1917 Lenin communist revolution invasion of Ukraine and death of the tragedy of Russias Romanovich Czar and family up to 1932 /33 Holodomor genocide History that is the main backdrop through the films storyline". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Bitter Harvest a incredible film on a worthy topic". San Francisco Chronicle.
  12. ^ "Review: In Bitter Harvest grim history gets undercut". Detroit News.
  13. ^ "Bitter Harvest can't does justice to its historical subject". National Post.
  14. ^ "Bitter Harvest is a ham-fisted, but well-intentioned romance". The Globe and Mail.
  15. ^ Debruge, Peter (February 23, 2017). "Film Review: Bitter Harvest". Variety.
  16. ^ Weigel, George (February 23, 2017). "Bitter Harvest and the Bitter Present in Ukraine". National Review. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  17. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Michael (February 23, 2017). "Bitter Harvest: Ukrainian famine is rendered as heavy-handed melodrama". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  18. ^ Paschyn, Larissa (February 24, 2017). "UACC statement in response to Michael O'Sullivan's review of Bitter Harvest". Ukrainian-American Coordinating Council. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  19. ^ Bryttan, Adrian (March 7, 2017). "Bitter Harvest: A universal romance shines a light on truth about the Holodomor". The Ukrainian Weekly. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  20. ^ Hall, Sandra (March 2, 2017). "Bitter Harvest review: Beguiling pair in Ukrainian tilt at Doctor Zhivago". The Sydney Morning Herald.

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