Who will do it?” asks Pastor Gennadiy Mohnkenko, referring to his work rescuing abused, neglected and drug-addicted kids from the streets of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Mohnkenko is the focus of Crocodile Gennadiy, the new documentary from Pittsburgh-based director Steve Hoover and producer Danny Yourd, whose first doc, Blood Brother, won the Audience and Grand Jury awards for Best Documentary at Sundance in 2013. Crocodile is one of four films opening the 34th annual Three Rivers Film Festival.
Hoover explains that the team was looking for a subject for a feature-length documentary when friends encountered Mohnkenko during a project in Ukraine. The charismatic “Crocodile” — he derives his nickname from a Soviet-era cartoon about a helpful reptile — had spent more than a decade helping to rehab street kids, through methods both conventional and unconventional, and proved a good match.
The filmmakers made trips to Mariupol over the past three years, documenting Mohnkenko’s work at his rehab center and throughout the industrial port city, which in 2014 became part of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine armed conflict. Mohnkenko also provided hours of footage from his own archives, covering 2000-2008, which Hoover incorporated. (This material contains some troubling images of abused children.)
The film doesn’t shy away from darkness, whether it’s Mohnkenko’s work, which strays into vigilanteism (“I had no legal right to take the child — I did it for moral reasons”); the despairing outcomes of many of the kids; the pollution-choked town; or the disruption caused by the conflict with Russia. “It’s not an uplifting story, it’s not life-affirming,” explains Hoover. “There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope.” (A somber score, composed by Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and Bobby Krlic, adds another layer of darkness.)
But the work has generated happier outcomes for the filmmakers, garnering awards at domestic film festivals and securing a distribution deal with The Orchard, after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring. Crocodile has its international premiere in Amsterdam later this month, and early next year will get a theatrical release.
Hoover agrees there are some parallels between this film and Blood Brother, which recounted a friend’s work with AIDS orphans in India. “It’s the fact that somebody is trying to do something positive with kids. I like character studies, and that’s what both films were intended to be for me. I don’t have a passion to focus on that particular subject matter.”
Asked what he might tackle next, Hoover says, “I would love to do something domestic, something local — and something more comedic.”
Steve Hoover and Danny Yourd will present the film.