Independent journalist Graham Phillips has made his feature documentary film debut with A Brit in Crimea (on his holidays). The project began when Phillips got the idea to find someone from the UK who had no real knowledge or opinion regarding the geopolitics of Crimea and Russia more widely and then, take such a person to one of Russia’s top tourist destinations – the Crimean peninsula.
Phillips who is known for his direct and personable interviewing style, put out his feelers among people at an English beach early in the process, only to discover that most had little knowledge of the history, culture and attractive setting that is Crimea.
Eventually, Phillips got in touch with a boyhood school acquaintance, Les Scott who owns a building equipment supply business in the Scottish city of Perth. The film begins with an introduction of Scott, his city and his friends before following Scott through the making of preparations for his journey to Crimea, along with Graham Phillips and his small crew.
From the outset, it became clear that for Scott, the prospect of going to a place that western governments calls “dangerous” was going to be one part adventure and one part mysterious, but in the true spirit of modern day exploration, Scott decided to take the plunge.
For Scott, it seemed as though the most difficult part of the journey was the very long drive from Moscow to Crimea. It should be noted that while European and US air carriers do not offer direct flights to Crimea (for purely political rather than logistical reasons), it is entirely possible to land at most major non-Crimean Russian airports and get a direct flight to international airports in Crimea.
The film is one part road-trip with plenty of humorous banter between Phillips and Scott, one part travelogue featuring beautiful hi-definition drone shots of Crimea’s landscapes and cities, and one part experiential documentary of a man being transformed from someone not entirely sure about Crimea to a man who fell in love with its people, its sights and its hospitality.
Choosing the popular Black Sea resort city of Yalta as home-base, Scott and Phillips spent their first day on the beach followed by an evening dance session at a local disco and bar. After a late night stop at a local kebab shop, they were off to Livadia Palace, the site of the Yalta Conference in 1945.
Throughout his six day whirlwind trip through Crimea, Phillips showed Scott the famous Swallow’s Nest castle in Gaspra, the windswept mountain top of Ai-Petri, the Taigan wild animal safari park, the breathtaking Balaklava harbour and finally the Hero City of Sevastopol.
For those who are unfamiliar with the political situation in Crimea, the film showed how the Russian peninsula is not only normal but fun, inviting and of course, peaceful. Phillips and Scott had conversations with many locals, including Crimean Tatars who all spoke positively of the changes on the peninsula since re-joining Russia after the 2014 referendum. All of the people Phillips and Scott spoke with, encouraged those from outside the Russian speaking world to visit Crimea, whose doors are wide open to all visitors and whose prices are generally far cheaper than holidays in southern Europe.
But for those who are aware of the situation in Crimea, as any regular viewers of Phillips’ frequent reportage from the region will be, the film served as a kind of ‘how to guide’ for those who want to visit Crimea. Overall, the biggest complaints Scott had, were restaurant menus that didn’t have an English language option, the pebbly beaches of Yalta (which he soon got used to on a late night swim) and on occasion, unfamiliar roads as he and Phillips took turns behind the wheel. Overall though, Scott left wanting to come back and even shot an update from Scotland earlier this year, encouraging people not to believe what western mainstream media says about Crimea, but to go and see it for themselves.
By the end of the film, most viewers will have developed a soft spot for the people of Crimea as well as Les Scott, but the overall star of the film was Crimea itself. For all the political rhetoric of the last several years, the film showed Crimea in all its sun soaked, windswept and historic beauty. A unique place on the Black Sea where Russian culture comes face to face with elements of the Hellenic culture, Turkic culture and wider Eurasian world.
There is something both homely and welcoming about Crimea, while there is also an element of grandeur and purpose to the landscapes and architecture of the storied peninsula. In future generations, Crimea will likely be far more remembered as a place where people from as far as Vladivostok and Beijing or Scotland and New York went to explore for themselves, rather than a place over which global politicians bickered in 2014.
In many ways, the film serves as an insight into Graham Phillips’s own journey. Phillips had worked as a journalist in pre-coup Kiev, while more recent events took him to the front-lines of the war in Donbass, the Crimean referendum of 2014 and many other places. While Phillips is best known for his work in Donbass and Crimea, he has filmed reportage in Moscow, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Britain, Serbia and South Ossetia. Phillips has said that through his journalistic work, he was able to see how the things he thought were true as an adolescent were not necessarily so. Through reporting on the front lines of major cultural, political and military events, his own mind has been changed over the years.
Such was the case with Les Scott, a man from a non-journalist perspective, who saw that the reality on the ground in Crimea is very different than the grim and overproduced packages on the mainstream media. But while political overtones were unavoidable in such a film, A Brit in Crimea does not leave one hating one political system or loving another. The film left one wanting to visit Crimea irrespective of geopolitics. This is due to the fact that the film’s style and subject matter transcends geopolitics.
While Scott and Phillips had a deeply enduring on screen chemistry, the lasting feeling audiences will be left with is an insatiable curiosity about Crimea, one than can only be cured by visiting first hand.
Graham Phillips has made his entire film available on Youtube, free of charge. It can be viewed by following the link below: