For 14 years Oscar nominated director Hanna Polak followed the life of a young homeless girl named Yula who was living in a Russian garbage dump. She chronicles Yula’s experiences and talks about hope in her new documentary, Something Better to Come. Ahead of the film’s screening at the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival, Polak spoke with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer.
The origins of Something Better to Come lay in Moscow in 1999. The fall of the Soviet Union has forced hundreds of children onto the streets with nowhere to go. Living in the city at the time, Polak helped the children where she could, sometimes having 40 of them staying in her apartment.
“This was thousands of children, actually, at this time staying on the streets,” she said. “I can only bring help to a handful of them and there must be more done.”
Conditions for these children were extremely tough, with many of them being exploited by organized crime. Many of them, according to Polak, turned to prostitution.
“Beautiful, amazing children, talented, but living an adult life, trying to survive in the most harsh conditions,” Polak said.
Inspired by the plight of the kids, Polak began working on two films. The first, titled Children of Leningradsky, was released in 2005, while the second became Something Better to Come.
The film’s star, Yula, was only 10-years old when filming first began. Brought to the garbage dump by her parents, she found escaping the place to be difficult, as the dump was surrounded by a fence and watched over by guards.
Polak described the film as the hardest she had ever worked on. Of particular difficulty was staying in contact with Yula through the years, as the residents of the dump lacked a single cell phone until 2005.
Despite the harsh living situation, Polak said Yula never gave up hope, and the film becomes a very inspiring message for those who watch it.
“The garbage dump becomes a total background to the story of someone who has a strong will, who has dreams, who has desires, who takes her destiny in her own hands…” she said. More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.