The Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) kicks off this weekend, which is a big deal in the city–138 feature films and 225 short films from 60 countries over the course of 10 days. The fest usually has some sports and Olympic-related films (last year Jill saw a documentary about the Jesse Owens oak trees), and 2024 is no exception.

Poster for the documentary Athletes of War, about athletes from Ukraine trying to prepare for Paris 2024.

Athletes of War is one of the Olympic documentaries featured in this year’s CIFF. It looks at the ongoing war in Ukraine from the lens of athletes who are trying to do sport and train for the Paris 2024 Olympics amidst bombed out facilities and the threat of death. It’s directed by Gabriel Veras, who is an award-winning director, DP and film editor. He’s worked on content for Nike, UFC, National Geographic, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, ESPN, Fox Sports, and more. In 2023, Gabe’s documentary short A Chocolate Lens won the Best Documentary Short Jury Award at CIFF, Athletes of War is his first feature length film. We talk with Gabe about how he conceived this idea, made the documentary, and the athletes involved.

Check out the trailer:

Athletes of War screens at CIFF on Wednesday, April 10. Streaming will also be available for US and US Territory residents through CIFF Streams from April 14-April 21, 2024. Order your stream here!

Keep up with the film and Gabe here. Follow the film and Gabe on Insta!

We’re less than 113 days from the start of Paris 2024, so there’s plenty of news from the City of Lights. The surfingnovela winds up with the completion of construction of the new judging tower.

However, when one novela ends, another begins! It seems that the ongoing concern about the water quality of Seine–and its ability to host open water swimming–is becoming its own novela. We’ve got the latest.

If you’re going to Paris, you may want to drop by the Mémorial de la Shoah to see the exhibit Les Jeux Olympiques: Miroir des Sociétés, which looks at history of Games as it reflects trends in societies and is used by country leaders use the Games for for political reasons, in particular Berlin 1936. It runs through November 10, 2024.

The International Handball Federation will also have a beach handball showcase from July 27-29, 2024 at the Maison du Handball in Créteil.

If you’re staying home, you can go to a watch party from your couch. Peacock will have virtual watch parties with Alex Cooper, host of Call Her Daddy.

In news from TKFLASTAN, we have updates from:

It’s also time to select the Games which will be the focus of our 2025 history moment shows. Go to our Facebook Group to vote for your favorite!

Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!

Photos courtesy of Gabriel Veras.


TRANSCRIPT

Note: This is an uncorrected machine-generated transcript and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the audio. Do not quote from the transcript; use the audio as the record of note.

331-Athletes of War Director Gabriel Veras

Jill: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Keep the Flame Alive, the podcast for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. If you love the games, we are the show for you. Each week we share stories from athletes and people behind the scenes to help you have more fun watching the games. I’m your host, Jill Jaracz, joined as always by my lovely co host, Alison Brown.

Alison, hello. How are you?

Alison: I am overwhelmed with Parisian

Jill: news. Oh,

Alison: it’s just, it’s coming so fast and so furious and the schedules are getting updated and some times are getting changed for events. So I don’t know if I’m coming or going, apparently I’m doing both.

Jill: I wonder how they all manage it themselves.

Working in the, the organizing committee,

Alison: I would love to see their spreadsheets

Jill: and their whiteboards.

Alison: Oh yeah. Just, there’s a lot of swearing and, and a lot of Monday and a lot of throwing a fancy quill pens. Cause that’s all they use in France.

Jill: I bet you will not find one quill pen for sale in France.

Alison: And we’re banned from wearing historic costumes in Paris during the Olympics, remember that little fact.

Jill: That’s right. That’s right. So, really.

Alison: So I need to get a whole new outfit for my equestrian events at Versailles.

Jill: Your planned walk around like Marie Antoinette is not going to work, is it?

Alison: It’s just, you know, the wig was, I needed a whole suitcase for it.

I’m so disappointed.

Jill: Oh, well, it is going to be fun to see what we’ll come up with for attire, I’m sure. Before we get to this week’s show, I wanted to give a shout out to our patrons and supporters who keep our flame alive, which, you know, our flame would go out without your support. So thank you for those who donate money or buy products through our different, stores and affiliate links.

If you would like to be an essential part of the show, go to flamealive. pod. com slash support to find more, other things you’ll find out today. even more news about Paris, but first the Cleveland International Film Fest is kicking off this weekend. And as I was pouring through the program, cause it’s a big festival, I found some entries that were Olympic related.

One of them is called the Athletes of War, which talks about the ongoing war in Ukraine and the difficulties athletes face in training and preparing for Paris 2024. It is directed by Gabriel Veras, who is an award winning director, DP and film editor.

He’s worked on content for Nike, UFC, National Geographic, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, ESPN, Fox Sports, and much more. Gabriel’s documentary. Gabe’s documentary short, A Chocolate Lens, won the Best Documentary Short Jury Award at the Film Festival last year, which qualified him for Oscar contention. And Athletes of War is his first feature length film.

We talked with Gabriel about the movie and how it all came about and some of the bigger stories in it. Take a listen.

[00:03:37] Gabriel Veras Interview

Jill: Gabriel Veras. Thank you so much for joining us to talk about your new documentary, Athletes of War.

What drew you to the topic of. Um,

Gabriel Veras: I would say the topic, on the war in Ukraine, actually, my wife is from Lithuania. so the, the war, when the full scale war started, you know, it kind of hit home in our home cause her family’s there. So we wanted to make sure that, you know, it’s not going to spill.

but also, I was watching CNN one day and I. one of my fellow, friend athletes, so I was on team USA and he’s on team Ukraine. and I saw him, he was in full, military uniform, you know, he’s an Olympian. he just won bronze medal Olympics and now he’s having to fight, for his country’s, existence.

and I think that really drew me into it and it was like, wow, this guy should be, instead of fighting in the war, he should be, you know, training and, and going to competitions and not having to worry about his family safety and about his country’s identity. And that’s, that’s, you know, Kind of, you know, at stake right now.

so that’s kind of what drew me into this topic. specifically on the sports angle on the Ukraine war. why, you know, war is all bad and stuff. I really don’t like to get into, so directly into like why the war, but like how the, how these athletes are, having to fight for their existence instead of, living their lives, competing as athletes.

Jill: With, a Lithuanian wife and having family in Lithuania, I’m not gonna guess your age, but we remember Soviet Union very well. It’s a big part, Cold War is a big part of us growing up. What is that kind of lens that, that side of your family has with the history they have connected to Russia? How does that play into how they view the situation in Ukraine?

Gabriel Veras: you know, my wife, she grew up in the time when the Soviet Union was just about to collapse, but her parents grew up in the Soviet Union and they, you know, they lived under a time where they weren’t able to speak Lithuanian. They had to speak Lithuanian, you know. speak Russian.

and so I think, you know, it really hits home for them because they don’t want to see anyone else having to go under occupation of Russians. so it’s, you know, it really hit home when it, when the full scale invasion broke out, because there was a fear that, and there still is a fear that, you know, they could, Eventually go into the Baltic, to the Baltics.

Alison: What did you know going into making the film about the situation in Ukraine?

Gabriel Veras: I mean, I knew what the news tells us, right. you know, Putin came up with this crazy idea that there’s Nazis there. and that’s why he’s doing the full scale invasion. and what I know is that, you know, I think a lot of this has to do with the U.

  1. Moving closer towards their border with bases and missiles and all that stuff. And I think that’s a, a bigger topic to talk about. but I, that’s all I really know about the, the war itself before I started this whole film and, you know, just what the news told us.

Jill: How was it to find athletes to take part in this?

Gabriel Veras: well, it’s funny. So, I, you know, after I came up with the idea to try to, you know, make this film, Athletes of War, you know, being on Team USA, I travel the world competing. So I know a lot of friends, all over the world. So I got in contact with one friend from France who is very good friends with Stanislav Haruna, who’s one of the guys in the film.

And he put me in touch with him and I asked him, I was like, Hey, I have this crazy idea. I want to, you know, make a documentary about the athletes fighting in the war or had it been affected by the war. Is it possible for you to get me some names of some of these athletes? and he’s like a hundred percent.

So right off the bat, he got me, sir. He’s so Hosky who’s a former professional player. I think everyone knows him cause he actually beat Roger Federer in one of his, his meets. and we also got. Some other people that weren’t in the film, um, some Olympians that he, like skeleton guys, some runners, the schedule didn’t align with our shooting days to, to get them in, but he was able to start putting me in contact with a lot of athletes that, you know, were interested in, in doing this,

Alison: The way the film starts talking to the many different Olympians. and their experience with the war was so dramatic. And the one that got me was, I want to get their name right, the, the Alex Silva sisters. And they, they talk about taking that medal. Talk, talk a little bit about other things that they told you that aren’t in the film.

And sort of how that evolved with those conversations.

Gabriel Veras: so I think the sisters, they talked about like having, like the day of the, the invasion. when it all started, they all thought it was kind of like a joke type thing. Like it wasn’t going to happen. And then, you know, They woke up the morning and their dad is like, you have to pack everything, you know, and they, and they talk about like how they were rushing to get their things.

And, you know, one of the things they took with them was their Olympic medal as their most prized possession. But then getting out of the city was just mayhem. Everyone was trying to get up Harkiv. Um, Harkiv is one of those cities that are still getting bombarded pretty much. And, and I think if things don’t happen.

Aid wise, I think Kharkiv could be one of the next major cities to fall. And I think that’s, I think that’s the second biggest, largest city in Ukraine. If I’m, if I’m not mistaken, but, that would be a really big blow if that city were to go down. So I think, you know, and they go back every so often, but now they’re, they’re living in Kyiv and training in Kyiv.

Um, but I think they, you know, They always talk about how sad it is for them to, you know, realize that they may never go back to their city. And if they do, it’s going to be ruined.

Alison: How was your safety while you were in Ukraine doing the filming?

Gabriel Veras: So actually I never went to Ukraine. This film was done via Zoom. Being a passion project, me being out of my normal day. Work would be very hard, um, to sustain as financially as, you know, as a creative, as a, as a filmmaker, I have to be here doing commercial work, unfortunately, so I found me a team there in Ukraine that, I, I trusted and, you know, we took a step by step, you know, doing some trial and error and eventually, you know, these guys, you know, They’re great.

And I’m still working with them as we speak. They’re helping promote the film. we have some other projects in the line too. so I would, make the list of questions for them. I would do a, a mood boards for them. I would do, Hey, I want this, this interview to look like this, this bureau to like that, and via zoom and everything, we were able to accomplish this film.

And, and, from last February until I would say end of May, I talked to them every day, late at night. So that’s, that’s kind of how the behind the scenes, this film got made and I think technology really helped, bring this to life.

Jill: So did you end up seeing dailies of what they produced or often did you have to review footage?

Gabriel Veras: I probably got, dailies once a week. Well, after like, if they shot for three or four days, they would send me the dailies to make sure we were good. Um, and then they could move to a different city and stuff. so yeah, I started editing like after a few weeks, only after we started shooting. So I was editing and, going through, making sure everything, we got everything.

And like, if we didn’t have everything, then I would be like, Hey, we need to shoot this, we need to shoot that. so it was actually a pretty cool process, collaborative process that, that we were able to, To accomplish, especially so far away and, and me not knowing them. And like, in the back of my mind, I was like, I’m going to get taken for all of this money.

They’re giving me, I’m not going to get any footage.

Jill: Did you find that the story changed as you saw footage and saw what they were able to get? And who they were able to talk to.

Gabriel Veras: The story changed so much. Originally going in, you know, I wanted to talk to just some of these, like more famous athletes, like the Harunas, like the Sochowskis, like the Twins, the Belliniques, you know, Bellinique is a massive star, especially in Europe and wrestling.

and. It started to evolve and to me, I thought we needed some, we needed some, some stories that would actually tell what’s really going on in the ground, right? So, you know, that’s how we found, these family members actually lost loved ones in the war that were sportsmen, not necessarily like.

Famous, athletes, but you know, they were really into the community and stuff, that was a really big thing. And also finding, some of these athletes. Actually, the only thing, the high jumper that’s actually on the front lines. He’s on the front lines all the time. He comes home, I think every six to eight weeks for about a couple of days, then he goes back out.

so that was very important to me. And also, someone that was in the war and now he’s using sports to. to kind of drive home his message and, and drive home and also like be on top of how the war is still going. And like a spokesperson, that’s Ramon. He’s the marathon, uh, runner, the amputee. He was a big story and I think he’s like kind of like the glue that brings the whole documentary together.

Jill: What did you think when you found him? Because his story and presence in the movie is just so incredible and surprisingly uplifting.

Gabriel Veras: Yeah, I mean when I, when I actually was going through some Instagrams and he just randomly just popped up on my, on my feed, and then I asked Haruna, I was like, Hey, do you know this guy?

He’s like, well, let me see what I can do. And so he got me in contact with, with one person that was helping him. Um, and then, you know, we had to negotiate a little bit, how he would give me the, his name and number and all that stuff. so eventually he gave me this number and, and, and to me, I was like, this is exactly what the documentary needed.

We needed someone that was in the war that played sports when he was a kid, but now he’s. Using sports to uplift other people that have been injured in the war to be like, Hey, just because you lost a limb, just because you lost, you know, something, you know, your life is not over. There’s, there’s purpose in life.

and I think in general, in war, of course, these are bad times for them, but there’s going to be a purpose for everyone in the country, after the war, and I think he, he really translates that into what he’s thinking and what he’s doing now as an athlete.

Jill: Well, and his placement in the story and where it is in the movie is interesting since it starts at the beginning with, you know, talking about how sports is an antidote for depression and the good of what sports can do.

And then you see these bombed out facilities that were specifically targeted to prevent sport in Ukraine. but then you have the story of, Roman, and. He just puts such a different perspective on the whole situation. It’s, it’s really Like you say it really ties the movie together.

Gabriel Veras: Yeah, He’s he’s a I think he’s a different beast regardless if he has an amputee or not Like that that guy is is isn’t like he He’s going to film like he’s he never ran a marathon in his life and they told him three months before the London Marathon Do you want to run it?

He’s like, yes, I’m gonna run it And even for someone that has two full legs, that’s even a crazy thing. and you know, everyone thought he wasn’t going to finish or that he was going to take 12, 14 hours to finish. And the guy ends up, you know, finishing under, I don’t know, five hours or six hours or something, you know, and, and it’s just nuts.

And now he’s just like taking it to a different level. He came to DC. He ran the Marine Marathon, a week later he goes to New York and runs a New York Marathon. Like, a week in between. Like, I don’t think any runner would ever do that. so, he’s a special human being regardless of, you know, he, him getting his leg blown off or, like, regardless of any of that, he’s a special guy.

Alison: Jill mentioned about all the facilities that were bombed out and it kind of reminded me how important sport is in Ukraine, you know, going back to the Soviet era. Just talk a little bit about Ukraine and sport in general.

Gabriel Veras: I think Ukraine, you know, I think why the Soviet union was so strong is because they had all these countries, under their, their belt, like, you know, the basketball team was all Lithuanian, pretty much.

There was no, there was no Russians or anyways, Lithuanian. Um, Ukraines were great wrestlers. They were great. like gymnastic swimmers and, and, and all that stuff. And I think today it still holds that fact. Ukraine has a big presence in, in the Olympics. they, you know, they send probably a hundred or something athletes.

To the Olympics every four years, the wrestling team is, is on point, weightlifting as well as really big, um, running, artistic swimming is really, really, really big there. I think they’re one of the top in the world. Um, gymnastics are okay. so I just think that, you know, sports in Ukraine is, is really big.

and it’s, it’s kind of sad, you know, Stahelski told me that, you know, they’ve, they’ve lost probably a generation. of athletes due to everyone leaving during the war. They, I think like 2 million or 3 million people have left since the war. And a lot of athletes have also left. and they don’t want to come back because a lot of them are subject to the draft.

and. They really don’t want to, you know, a lot of them have their differences in, in, in the war itself. a lot of young kids and, and I don’t think they, they want to partake in the war. so, they’ve lost a lot. And I think infrastructure wise, I think they’ve lost over 600 buildings or something.

so almost all of the stuff outside of Keeve is pretty, pretty much ruined. And, and. everywhere else, like Harkeve, everywhere it’s, they’ve all been bombed out pretty much.

Jill: One of the other things about the movie that really hit home when you talk about a generation of athletes being gone is the fields turned into cemeteries.

And you see just the, the mass of soldiers who have died, and of course they will not become parents to the next generation of Ukrainians. Why was it important for you to include those shots in that aspect of the

Gabriel Veras: story? So, let’s, going back in a blue, the way I wanted to structure this film is to kind of start with death.

And to transition over to a time of, of maybe some uplifting, stuff with Vermont, you know, finishing the, the London race and the Athens to end talking about winning and stuff. So that was my, my concept and, and to show that the, the fields, um, I think it’s just a strong point, you know, the, the lady in the film says that a year before.

they laid her son to rest, her son’s grave was the only one there. And about, you know, six, seven months later, the entire field where they were at is filled and now they’re moving to the next, it just shows the, the devastation and the life loss, in UK. And I wanted to show that to, especially like.

Us Americans, right? We, we only see what the news wants us to hear. and I think it’s, it’s critical for everyone to see what’s really going on there. Like it’s, there’s a lot of life loss and it’s, it’s, it’s very sad what’s going on. generations are gone, are, are getting wiped out. because I think of this, this senseless war.

So, uh, I wanted to really show that and, and really show to Americans and to the West part, like, this is a serious thing and we should take it very serious because this can open up into a, a full front war that we all don’t want. So,

Alison: So, getting on that topic of the full scale war and the complications with the world, I want to talk a little bit about the banning of Russian athletes, and Ukrainian athletes have really been on the forefront of advocating for that, and how that plays into, you know, How you wanted to tell the story.

Did that play into how you wanted to tell the story?

Gabriel Veras: I think that had a lot to play with this story. I think my stance is that I don’t, it doesn’t matter if they’re neutral or if they’re have a green flag or a red flag, I think no Russian athletes should be able to compete at the Olympics only because, you know, they’re funded by the government.

Russia uses that as a propaganda tool to prop up their, their, their war machine. A lot of those athletes. Are paid, they have salaries and a lot of them are contracted in the military contract and the police contracted in the ministry, the ministry’s office. Um, a lot of Americans don’t, don’t know, but like in the U S our sports teams, aren’t funded by the government.

It’s, it’s all, privately funded, sponsors. Um, that’s how the Olympic team is funded here. Outside the world, it’s funded by the government. It’s, you know, these athletes are all, you know, hired by the police or ministers. And I have friends, I have friends that, you know, they, they, they get a paycheck from the ministry of education, but they never set foot in the education building at all, you know, so that’s, that’s just how the things work.

And I think a lot of Americans don’t, don’t know the fact That that’s the case. And, you know, some people outside the U S, they think that Russians should be allowed because, there’s a very small window for athletes to compete in Olympics. Everyone knows you have that one shot probably, and you’ll never get it again, right?

So there’s that argument as well. But I think if, if these athletes. Don’t come out and say that they are against the war. Then I don’t think they should, should compete. And I don’t think they ever will be. I don’t think they ever will come out and say that they’re against this war because then they lose all their money.

They lose their whole livelihood. everything is thrown out. They probably get thrown in jail. so I understand that fact and, and there’s just no way around, protecting either side. So, our team’s, view is that no Russian athletes should compete.

And the Olympics whatsoever.

Jill: it’s kind of interesting that this movie is coming out right when we’re at kind of a crux for the IOC making some decisions.

They did make the decision to allow individual, uh, Athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete, the Paralympics are a little different because they’re, uh, democratically run member organization and the membership voted slightly to allow, Russian and Belarus, Russian individual athletes to compete.

But. the Paralympics just came down with a slew of regulations. I don’t know if you saw this, of how they will be at these, these athletes will have to conduct themselves and what they have to wear and how they will be competing. And the IOC is yet to respond, but they will next week on whether Russian Belarusian athletes, neutral athletes can participate in the opening ceremonies.

do you think the IOC will actually Have more of a fist than they’ve ever had before?

Gabriel Veras: I don’t think so. I don’t have any face in the IOC. you know, there, there was one point where everyone thought, Hey, the IOC is actually, might be a good organization. Like when in the Rio games, when they banned the Russian athletes completely, and then two weeks before they’re like, Oh no, no, no, we made a mistake.

they’re allowed back, you know? Um, I don’t think so. I mean, in the news, it seems like there’s a rift between the Russians and the IOC right now. I just don’t know if that’s a game or if that’s actually, you know, Putin has threatened and I’m just like, I’m not sending any neutral athletes to the, uh, to the Olympics.

yeah, I have no faith in the IOC. I think this is one of the most corrupt, uh, organizations. And, you know, second to FIFA, out there, I’ve talked to a lot of reporters and they have just told me some crazy things, you know, I think there’s a hundred members in the IOC and, they get a crazy per diem in cash while they’re at there, I think it’s a couple of thousand a day and these aren’t.

Like a lot of these guys are very wealthy individuals and they don’t think they need per diems every day You know, so I think there’s there’s a level of corruption there that has hasn’t yet been Discovered or everyone just turns a blind eye to it Like everything else.

Alison: are the athletes that you saw getting ready for Paris? How how is the Ukrainian team training?

Gabriel Veras: so the two athletes that, uh, that are in the film that are training for the Olympics, they are the twins. they have, qualified, on the duo, artistic swimming, competition. Um, I don’t know about the team itself.

I think that’s maybe coming later or cause I know the, the world championships, they placed pretty high. but the two twins will go there and also Zombo and Yuki is getting ready. The twins, they travel a lot. They travel all over. I think they’re training very well.

I think Ukraine is, trying to protect their athletes that they have left, giving them a good place to train, especially in Kyiv. so yeah, I think, I think they’re, they’re, they’re training well. I think they’re going to have a great showing. I think these athletes have a lot of pride in their country and they want to.

A, bring medals back home, but. Bring more attention to their country. Uh, I think, you know, Olympics is one of the biggest stages for sports. we’re at a time now where a lot of news, is not really covering the Ukraine war, how it should be and how it used to, you know, it’s, it’s seems like it’s been pushed to the, to the back burner.

a few things will come out here and there, but it’s not a lot about it. And I think, I think they’re going to use this opportunity to really, You know, drive home their message on how they feel about the war and how things should be going.

Jill: Do you get a sense of whether the athletes in Ukraine have suffered a little in terms of having funding for training?

Gabriel Veras: I have not. sense. I think the government understands that, they need to invest money in, in, in sports in order for them to stay relevant in, in the world as well.

I know they’re, they’re sending athletes everywhere. I don’t know, particularly like if the government’s sending, funding or if the, if they’re getting private funding or someone’s, you know, putting the bill for them. I do know a lot of their athletes are traveling all over. Karate’s, that’s my sport and I know they go to all the, all the different competitions.

so I, I think Ukraine, the government knows that they need this tool. They’re also using it as their way, in a different angle to, you know, to make sure the world doesn’t forget about them. I don’t know.

Jill: It’s interesting to think. In a sense, you want to call it propaganda because it’s sending a message in a different way than it is for using it as a tool to justify war. It’s just kind of interesting. And it’s interesting that sports is the vehicle that touches people most. You know what I mean?

Gabriel Veras: I think everyone, everyone loves sports in some way or fashion.

You might even be a diehard sport, but Olympics, you wanna see your country win. You might not know the names of the, of the people that are competing, but you wanna see your country win. And I think that brings everyone together, all over the world.

Alison: So one of the things we know that happens at the Olympics is you’re not allowed to protest on the podium, but should we expect to see some Ukrainian athletes taking a stand on the podium?

Gabriel Veras: I don’t know. Um, there could be some, I know the, the, the fencing, um, girl, um, she did a big protest where she didn’t shake the, uh, the Russian’s hand. I could see that happening. and you never know, I, you might see the Russians do something too, because you know, they’ve, a lot of, some of the athletes have grown, have wore the Z on their uniforms, um, in many competitions.

And yeah, IJI don’t know what to expect. I know a, I know a lot of the Ukrainians, I don’t think they wanna stoop to that level of, wait, just, just ’cause it may, might bring bad press on, on their, on their country, but I mean, you never know. I mean, if it were, if it were me, and this might were my last games.

I 100 percent would probably do something to, to bring attention to the fact that, you know, there is a war raging two hours away from Paris and upon a plane ride, it’s not like we’re halfway across the world. We’re literally two hour flight from Paris. And there’s a war as we speak while the Olympic games are going on.

Alison: How hard was this on you and the, the, your team emotionally?

Because it’s hard to watch and that’s all of an hour and a half, but you were living with this for how long?

Gabriel Veras: we were living with this for about a year. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve seen the film over a hundred times and I still get tears in my eyes. Um, I had to go through 33 interviews and more than half of those were, were all teary eyed.

You know, there were some points I just have to step back and I just couldn’t do it anymore. Um, it’s really sad. It was hard on the crew too. They were very emotional because, you know, they’re in an active war and they’re, you know, getting the stories of these people that are, have faced the worst outcome of the war.

so I think overall it was a very sad time, but it’s also, I think everyone also felt proud to do something like this because we’re helping, you know, Well, at least we’re trying to get the, the word out, to what’s really going on over there, in a different angle than what a lot of other films have come out with.

Jill: What ended up on the cutting room floor that you wish the film had space for?

Gabriel Veras: Oh, I wish, We could have opened up, some backstories on some of these Olympic athletes, cause some of them have a very, unique, like Stachowski. He, he was living in Hungary, this awesome life, when the full scale invasion, He went directly to Ukraine.

He was the only one going into Ukraine. They met him at the border and they brought him in. and he, he is spending his own money, um, helping, um, with causes. he’s in the special forces. he goes out regularly to do combat missions. I mean, someone like that, you know, deserves their own.

He’s just so busy and we couldn’t just nail him down the whole time. but I think, you know, stories like that, Really, really drive home and really like send a message is like, this is like one of their greatest athletes they’ve had, and he’s going back and fighting, you know, for his, his country’s existence, you know, they’re, cause Russia’s trying to wipe off all Ukraine.

Jill: As you talk about not being able to get into people’s backstories as much, but, but then was your choice then telling as many stories as you could to show the expansiveness of the situation?

Gabriel Veras: Yeah. So I might, I wanted to show, people that, you know, you and I can relate to, um, I wanted to show, you know, famous athletes, um, I wanted to get a perspective from, you know, an American journalist who was Eddie Pelz.

and then I, I wanted to show someone that is actively, was actively in the war, got messed up in the war, and then now is using sports to his advantage. That was all my, my thought process. Um, and just bring it all together, in some foreign way. I think it works. hopefully it works, but,

Alison: yeah.

It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful movie. Hard watch.

Gabriel Veras: Very hard. Yes. We get that a lot. I’m like, this is not a film where, it’s a casual watch. It’s a very, um, you have to be focused. It’s intense. and, and you know what I think, I think is what documentaries are about. I think we, we fall into this space where all we want to see is true crime.

We want to see famous athletes in their, in their lives and, and stuff. And, and we’re losing a sense of reality, with all these films. and we were not really, we don’t even know what’s going on in the world anymore. you know, everyone’s just. It’s, you know, fixated on famous people or true crime.

They’re not fixated on what’s real, what’s really going on.

Alison: What do you want to see the impact of the film specifically on sport and athletes in Ukraine?

Gabriel Veras: I want this film to bring attention to the fact that the IOC is letting, the Russians back, even as neutral athletes. I think a lot of people don’t know about any of this.

and it’s going to be a surprise when they come, to the opening ceremonies and they see, Oh, neutral athletes. The announcers are going to go, Oh, those are Russians. You know, it’s, it’s going to slip just like it slipped in Tokyo. They were supposed to go only by ROC and the announcer was like Russian Olympic committee.

So they’re going to know that, that, that they’re there. And, I want people to know, and, you know, people to maybe, You know, boycott, some of the, the stuff where the Russians are at or, you know, give them hell when they’re there at in Paris in the stands, you know, boo them and make sure everyone knows that these people should not be allowed.

at the Olympics.

Jill: So what is the life of the film beyond the Cleveland Film Fest?

Gabriel Veras: that’s TVD.

Jill: What is the hope for the life of the film after the Cleveland Film Fest?

Gabriel Veras: So we’re, we’re talking to a lot of broadcasters in Europe to try to get it on broadcast TV in Europe. Um, there’s been some, good reception to it. we need to make it shorter, of course.

Um, we’re also showing it in the French National Assembly, which is their like White House, we’re showing that in May, there. So, there’s a. MP. His name is Ben Haddad. he’s hosting this. He’s like the head of this Ukrainian friendship group. so we’re showing it there. We hope to invite the mayor of Paris, a lot of high profile people there that are going to be, Part of the Olympics and stuff so that they can watch this and, you know, and they’ve been very vocal.

There’s nothing really that anyone can really do. but you know, it’s, hopefully we’ll give, little bit more of a, of a platform or, you know, there’s some press, you know, just start talking about it. we’ll see there’s some other film festivals that are waiting on. I think another plan would be to, right before the Olympics, release this on a self distribution platform like Vimeo or even release it for free on YouTube, with a donation.

Um, we partner up with a charity that’s Ramaz Charity that helps injured, soldiers, get back on their feet, whether it’s needing surgery or they need help after they’ve lost their limbs and stuff. so a lot of that will go to help that. Also we’re showing, there’s a small theater in Middleburg and Middleburg, Netherlands.

That’s be showing the film in late April. all the proceeds of that will go to citizens charity, which is a charity of Ramon as well. so, um, We’re trying to do as much as we can and as much as possible. Uh, there’s only so much we can do. The big streamers have all said no to the film, of course. but, I think by, by word of mouth, if we can get this out to everyone, maybe we can make a big splash to where people are like, well, where, how come this film isn’t anywhere, you know?

So. That’s the goal.

Is there anything we missed that you want to make sure you say?

Gabriel Veras: Um, if anyone has any information, they can go to athletesawar. com. Um, they can see when it’s, when it’s showing, , that’s where we’ll probably do the video on demand, thing, where people can pay, there’ll be a donation kind of thing, that’ll go most of it to the charity.

so yeah, that’s really it.

Jill: All right. Excellent. Gabriel Vares, thank you so much for joining us and for making this story to make sure we don’t forget about this. important aspect of what’s going on in Olympism right now.

Gabriel Veras: Thank you so much for having me.

Jill: Thank you so much, Gabe. You can follow the movie on. Instagram at athletes underscore of underscore war, and he is Gabe underscore VV and his website is gabrielvaris. com. And we’ll have a link to the movie through the film festival. It is screening on Wednesday, April 10th, 2024 at 4 50 PM. If you’re not able to make it to Cleveland.

Those of you in the U. S. and U. S. territories can screen it through the Cleveland Film Festival streaming program and they will have that film available April 14th through April 21st. We’ll have a link in the show notes where you can order the screening and watch it. That’s all I got to say.

Alison: So powerful and so important and we’ve talked about this issue from when we were in Beijing and this, if you don’t understand the implications of the Ukrainian war, this will show it to you in vivid, vivid color.

Jill: Right. And I have not been so moved by a movie in a while. And I watched it on a fairly small monitor and just was. silent for a while and it’s just the eerie feeling you get from this movie and how much, how much it can affect you is just very, very powerful. So highly recommend going to see it or ordering up and watching at home.

I, I actually, even though we’ve seen the movie, I plan to watch it again. I plan to go see it in the big screen, bringing my puffs because It’s tough.

Alison: I mean, this is, this is no little romp in the park, but it’s worth it.

[00:37:51] Dress for Paris at our TeePublic Storefront

Jill: What a transition. Well, uh, before we get on to our Paris 2024 news, Paris may be the fashion capital of the world, but the French have never seen fashion quite like Uh, check out the Keep the Flame Alive merchandise shop for t shirts, hoodies, tank tops, and more with new designs for Paris 2024. You can find the shop at flamealivepod.

com and the store link is at the bottom of the page. Ooh la la. I wish TeePublic sold berets.

Alison: Well, we can make new designs and

Jill: requests. Oh, okay. Can you please get the beret which will be very very popular? Or the frige. Oh, yeah, well, then we get trampled on for trademark violations But yeah sports somewhere we’d love to see if you’re going to the games We’d love to see some Schuylkillstern shirts out there so we can say hello to you But yeah, check out the store and your purchases go to help support the show

[00:39:00] Paris 2024 News

Alison: Je regarde la piscine.

Jill: Getting good.

Alison: I know, I’ve been practicing. My accent is terrible. I expect all the French to answer me in English, but I’m going to keep trying.

Jill: I know, me too. It’s going to be bad. But, you know, I guess you just got to try. You just got to try and we’re working on it. So we have probably, what I would say is, The last installment of our surfing novella.

The new judges tower in the Tahitian surf is complete. Construction of the tower was finished two weeks early. So that is a nice sign. They have some finishing work to do on the structure. So they had to finish the roof. They have to install the cables and they had to finish building out the areas.

This is like a three level platform.

Alison: This punch list is long. I don’t know what they’re saying. They’re complete.

Jill: Well, the structure is done. So they’re not, they’re not doing that element, but you know, in a way, The structure kind of looks like a Barbie dream house. There’s no L. I’m not that I saw an elevator They’re stairs, but you know how I had the open front so you could play with the Barbies

That’s what I’m talking about when we’re talking about the structure it looks open in the front I don’t know but Surfing’s dream tower who knows But it seems like the whole construction of that tower went okay It went very smoothly. The wave seems to be fine, which is very important. And we will see how well the coral reef recovers from the damage done earlier in the project.

There will be like a test event in May for the surfing venue. So that’ll be cool.

You know, I love a good novella. So we’ve wrapped up that one, but let’s turn our attention to the Senn novella. They’re still having issues with the cleanliness of the water for the open water swimming and the triathlon events, which will have their swim portions in the Senn.

It’s a problem, especially after it rains. So right now there’s a little bit of news because we’re in a rainy season post winter. There’s spring heavy rains. There’s some flooding going on. And guess what? The sun’s polluted. Still has pollution. Officials have been going to homes to get homeowners and houseboat owners to connect their drainage pipes to where the sewer system Instead of draining their wastewater directly into the Seine or the Marne River, which is one of the Seine’s tributaries.

there is construction going on on a new underground or underground wastewater storage tank that can hold 13. 2 million gallons of storm driven wastewater that should be operational by May.

Alison: So. Remember when they had the test event for the triathlon and they ended up making it a duathlon because they couldn’t have the swimming.

And I said, the French are going to get this done. They are not going to let this pollution issue become the story. I was wrong, and I want to publicly say that I was wrong.

Jill: Yeah, it’s, it’s going to be an issue, I think, all the way up to, because there’s really no plan B, from what we understand, for what happens if you can’t swim in the sand.

I think they may just swim in the sand, and it might sound a little like Rio, where they had these events, and there was a lot of talk about pollution in the water there. So. don’t know, an open water swim could be really tough.

Alison: Don’t you think they would have started with getting the boats and the homes hooked up to the sewer system?

Like that seems like such a simple, I mean, it’s not simple and it is expensive, but you think. That would have been where they started, not where they’re doing this three and a half months ahead of time.

Jill: Yeah, you wouldn’t think that’d be ongoing with, Hey, we need to clean up the sand. Where’s the water coming from?

Okay, we have some issues, but hey, look, a lot of wastewater gets dumped. Let’s get rid of some of that. but maybe there, maybe that was like a last, Priority in terms of like, we’ve got bigger priorities of stuff getting dumped into the river now. We’ll get down to the homeowner. So we will see what happens.

A lot of places are reporting on this. We got our information from wall street journal and France 24 dot com. So, speaking of the, uh, they’re supposed to be an opening ceremony rehearsal. On April 8th, that’s been postponed to May 27th due to the weather and heavy rains, the sun is now too high for all of this stuff to go on.

So, May 27th, if you are in town in Paris. And can go to the Seine, go and check it out for us and let us know what’s going on. That is from Franck Chou. Also if you are going to Paris for the Olympics, there is a new exhibit at the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris. It is called Les Jeux Olympiques, Miroir de Société.

It’s going on now until the 10th of November, and the exhibit looks at the history of the games as it reflects trends in societies, also, how country leaders use it for political purposes. In particular, we’re talking about Berlin 1936. So that seems like an interesting exhibit to check out. Also, another showcase that will be going on is a.

Beach Handball Showcase brought to you by the International Handball Federation. That will happen over the opening weekend of the games. It’s July 27th through 29th at the Maison du Handball in Créteil in Paris. It’s in the metro area on the southeast side. So, uh, the IHF HF is hoping that beach handball, which has been on the youth Olympic games program, will get onto the Olympic program.

It’s a smaller sport. You have teams of four instead of teams of seven. They play in two sets of 10 minutes, so it’s a pretty fast game. On sand, you cannot bounce the ball, so you must throw it, pass it, or roll it. So that will be interesting to see. The, beach handball showcase is going to be part of a bigger celebration in the area, because I think the torch is going through there as well.

that is, uh, news brought to us by Inside the Games. If you are staying home for the Olympics, we have more news for, from Peacock. We gotta start figuring out what. Other countries are doing like, this is CBC and, Australia and, what is it? Channel four in yes. Channel four

Alison: now in

Jill: the UK, we had to figure out what they’re all doing.

Cause Peacock just has more and more news and NBC has more and more stuff going on. Peacock will is going to have virtual watch parties. With call her daddy host Alex Cooper. This is going to be an interactive pitcher in pitcher experience with Alex and some guests giving an insider view and Commentary while stuff is I’m assuming while the show is go while competition is going on.

They will take audience questions in real time from social. And it sounds like this is going to be more on during the high profile events like soccer, gymnastics, and basketball. Although I would really love to see Alex Cooper talk about modern pentathlon. I would too. I would so love that. Let’s get the experts.

This is

Alison: clearly going for the same type of viewer that was really into Snoop Dogg and Kevin Hart last time around. Maybe the young kids. Um, on the Snapchat will like this. I worry very much that it’s going to be too much in the line of making fun of the Olympics.

Jill: Oh, interesting.

Alison: She’s very irreverent, Alex Cooper.

She likes to tell it like it is very straightforward, very foul mouthed. So this could go a lot of ways. Well, reserve judgment.

Jill: We’ll see. Speaking of specific games like we were with Paris 2024, we hope you are enjoying our spin off history moment shows and in 2025 we’re going to keep the spin off format going. So as always, Always the games we focus on for the year is up to the listener, specifically ones in our Facebook group because we have a games going on.

Oh, wait, hold on. Speaking of specific games, we hope you’re enjoying our spin off show that is our games history moment. And in 2025, we’re going to keep the show spun off as its own separate entity. So if you love games history, tune in for that. Uh, We generally choose the games that we’ll focus on a few months ahead of time, but because Paris 2024 is going on the summer, we’re going to focus on, uh, we’re going to choose the next year’s games.

Right now, so that we have a little more time to prepare. So as always, the games we focus on for the year is up to the listeners, specifically the ones in our Facebook group. We will have a poll going relatively soon, and we’ll have that up for a couple of episodes so that you can vote on which games you would like to learn about.

Uh, we always tie them to big anniversaries. So what are we looking at next year, Alison? We

Alison: have Sydney 2000, Moscow 1980, Antwerp 1920, and Paris 1900. So you can pick one of those, the poll will be up by the time the show airs, and we’ll see what you come up with.

[00:48:39] TKFLASTAN Update

Alison: Welcome to Shookflist on.

Jill: It is the time of the show where we check in with our team at Keith, the flame alive. These are past guests of the show and listeners who make up a citizenship of a shook flushed on our very own country.

First up,

Alison: Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shay are sailing in the princess Sophia trophy this week. After two days of racing, they are in second place.

Jill: Team Schuster currently has a four and four record at the World Men’s Curling Championships. They are ranked seventh, but there is still a lot of round robin play to go, which means they are still in the hunt to get into the playoff rounds.

Alison: Congratulations to new dad wrestler, Alex Sancho. He and his partner, Naomi, welcome to son Amias Fernand Sancho on March 25th.

Jill: And, uh, congratulations to Jason Turdamon and his new wife, Jillian, who got married last weekend.

[00:49:37] Get in Touch

Jill: Now that is going to do it for this episode. Be sure to stream Athletes of War at the Cleveland International Film Festival and let us know what you think.

Alison: You can find us on Xthreads and Instagram at flamealivepod. Send us an email at flamealivepod at gmail. com. Call or text us at 208 333 3333. 3 5 2 6 3 4 8 that’s 2 0 8 flame it, chat with us and other listeners and vote for next year’s history Olympics at keep the flame alive podcast group and sign up for our weekly newsletter with even more Olympic and Paralympic info.

Or you at our website, flamealivepod. com.

[00:50:19] Coming Soon

Next week, we are going to head back to the book we’ve been talking about called All In Stride by Joanna Garten, and we’ll be talking with one of the featured athletes in the book, Shukla Stani, Samantha Schultz.

Jill: Samantha will talk about her time in the World Class Army Program, and we’ll be talking with her about her struggles with an eating disorder. So be sure to tune in for that.

It’s a really powerful conversation and it’s always great to have Samantha back on the show. She’s so lovely to talk to. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, keep the flame alive.