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Simon Lereng Wilmont: “The Oscar Nomination Helps Us Get the Message Out”

How do children cope with war? This is one of the questions that A House Made of Splinters seeks to answer. The documentary film tells the story of a shelter for neglected children in Ukraine who are highly affected by the war in their country.


“It is always the children who suffer the most,” says Simon Lereng Wilmont via Zoom from his hotel room in Los Angeles where he is visiting to attend the Oscar ceremony. “They are the hope and the future. It is for these children that we send out a cry for help.”

The film, which is nominated for an Oscar in the feature documentary category, follows the two young girls, Eva and Sasha, and the teenage boy Kolya, as they try to cope under very difficult circumstances. The shelter is like a loving home for the children who are the most vulnerable of all during the war.

“The shelter is a shining example of how to do it. They make it feel like a home rather than an institution. They set a good example that we can all learn from.”

A House Made of Splinters premiered at Sundance where Wilmont won the Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary. Now that it is nominated for an Oscar, it means that the message of the film will be heard, he says.

“It has already meant a big deal for the film,” says Wilmont. “The Oscar nomination has given it an incredible platform for us to get the message out and we have had a lot of feedback on the film.”

The film was shot in the Lysychansk Center for The Social and Psychological Rehabilitation of Children in Eastern Ukraine.

“I think, most importantly, there is a new focus on the film in Ukraine itself and the Ukrainian media has covered it a lot. Thus, there is a lot of focus on the children.”

The assistant director of the film, Zad Safarov, and social worker Lena Rosvadovske, who had extensive experience working with vulnerable kids and families living near the frontline, founded the organization Voices of Children with the purpose of taking care of vulnerable children.

“We have been able to gather a nice sum for their NGO,” says Wilmont. “They are doing amazing work.”

The film’s most emotional moments are the phone calls between the children and their parents which reveal how hard life at home had been for them before they came to the shelter. In one scene, Eva asks her grandmother, “Is mom drinking again?” You can hear the sadness and disappointment in her young voice as she is waiting for the answer she already knows. The Danish filmmaker was drawn to these kids partly because he was a father himself.

“I ended up in Ukraine because I wanted to research the conditions of children who live in conflict zones. I asked myself the question: How to go about growing up in a place like this?”

Wilmont also shot his 2017 documentary, The Distant Barking of Dogs, in Eastern Ukraine with the war as the backdrop, and here he examines the same issue.

“In a way, one film kind of became the next film. I fell in love with this area of the world and now I have so many close friends there. I am really attached to that area now.”

A House Made of Splinters was shot before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and a lot has happened in the area. According to Wilmont, it hardly exists any longer. And today, the shelter is empty. A missile hit the roof of the shelter without exploding and it just sits there on the roof, he was told. But the children had been evacuated already on February 24, 2022, and were safe.

“Azad, Lena and I became very close with the children, so we set up some funds and created a pilot program for them where we hired two psychologists to be there for them and the adults after we stopped shooting. In this way, we could keep tabs on the children and we know where they are.”

Kolya and Sasha were in an orphanage in Europe and two months ago Kolya was adopted by a foster family in Ukraine.

“We made sure that the foster father will help him get in touch with his siblings,” says Wilmont, who also points out that they lost touch with Eva for a while but then she turned up in the western part of Ukraine.

A House Made of Splinters went through most of awards season without any U.S. distribution partner, but recently, Giant Pictures acquired U.S. theatrical and VOD rights to the documentary.

“It was extremely hard to find a distributor,” says Wilmont. “Hopefully, this means that it will help us get the message across in the US too. We hope it will get a larger audience who will understand how devastating it is for a small society to have a war going on in your backyard.”