As she was helping her grandmother clean the house, Stephanie Turenko stumbled upon something very interesting: an old violin case. “I asked my Baba about it,” Stephanie told New Pathway, “and she launched into the story about how my grandfather was a great hutsul musician. It was then that she also told me about how they met: in Canada because of a photo published in the newspaper”.
Inspired, Stephanie decided she was going to find that photo. It was more of a laborious project than she had expected. Stephanie researched what newspapers were around in 1949 and which still had archival records. Because her grandmother was in Picton and grandfather was in Kingston, Stephanie figured the photo was in the Kingston Whig Standard. She then contacted Queen’s University and was able to locate microscans of the newspaper of that year. Using equipment at Robarts Library at University of Toronto between her classes, Stephanie scoured each page of the old newspaper for a photo that may not have existed.
Then, one day she found it. Seated at a table of Ukrainian women, smiling at her on the screen was her a photo of her 20 year old grandmother. The description under the photo read: “Eleven Ukrainians, recent arrivals to Picton from DP camps in Germany celebrated their Christmas …”.
“I really couldn’t believe I had found the photo,” Stephanie explains, “I sat there, in the computer lab smiling and holding back tears. My grandmother had never seen that photo. I was so excited to give it to her! It was this photo this my grandfather, Vasyl Turenko, saw in the newspaper that spurred him and his friends to go find those Ukrainian girls”. After hearing this story, Stephanie decided she wanted to share the romantic tale with others.
“I decided to make a short animated film called My Baba’s Kitchen about this moment in my grandparents’ lives, “she says. Once she had written a script, she sought out an animator and found Anna Naronina, an artist and friend from Lviv. The music, also created in Lviv, was done by Stephanie’s friends in the band Lemko Bluegrass Band. The post-production and editing were done in Canada by Stephanie and Matthew Zyla. “It was truly a collaborative project. It reflects both my and my grandmother’s heritage – Ukrainian and Canadian” says Stephanie.
Over the course of several months, Stephanie raised over $5,000 towards her project using an online crowdfunding platform, Rockethub. Upon receiving the Taras Shevchenko grant recently, Stephanie is ecstatic that her work can continue. “I am so happy that now I will be able to print DVDs and also apply to more film festivals, which are very expensive”. To date, Stephanie has applied to 20 film festivals globally, which has cost her almost $700.
This year, Stephanie has done private screenings of her film at St. Vladimir Institute and at Ukrainian Festival on Bloor Street and says she is very satisfied with the reviews. Although it is only a 5 minute animated film, people seem to connect to it. “I realize the Ukrainian community strongly connects with the film, even though it is a personal story of just one couple. Many people approached me afterwards telling me their family stories of immigration; one woman was even at the same Displaced Person camp in Germany as my grandmother!”
Stephanie explains, “I think people are excited about the film because it is not presented in a typical documentary style. My Baba’s Kitchen tells an immigrant story in a creative and artistic way. It is a loving memory, an oral story and a family history. I have shown the film to children, adults and seniors and all seem to find a connection to it. I think it is important for us to continue documenting the stories of our ancestors, because if we don’t, they will be lost forever. As a Ukrainian-Canadian, I am so glad I was able to explore my identity through the medium of film”. To learn more about Stephanie’s film, visit her website at www.mybabaskitchenfilm.com.