Director: Steve Hoover
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 100 Minutes
This is a repost of our review from Tribeca 2015. Almost Holy opens in limited release today. This review has been edited to reflect the title change.
There are few people in this world who could be classified as true heroes – those who selflessly help others in need without asking for anything in return, many times at the detriment to their own wellbeing. Gennadiy Mokhnenko, the subject of director Steve Hooper’s latest documentary, Almost Holy (formerly titled Crocodile Gennadiy), seems to handily fit that bill. Spanning over a decade, the film looks at Mokhnenko’s work as a pastor and the founder of the Pilgrim Republic rehabilitation center, protecting the youth of Ukraine from addiction and the streets.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the nation’s social infrastructure was in shambles, resulting in an influx in children living on the streets and succumbing to drug addiction. Without government programs and with a vastly underfunded police force, the problem grew out of control until, in 2000, a young pastor from Mariupol, Ukraine, decided to take matters into his own hands.
Some look at him as a vigilante due to his unorthodox and legally questionable methods of removing children from the streets. If he gets word of an abusive parent or hostile living situation, he and his team will simply go to the home and physically remove the child from the situation. He frequently sets up his own sting operations to find local drug dealers and pharmacies selling illegal prescription drugs to addicts and outs them to the media in order to prevent the flow of narcotics in his town.
Over the years, his organization has grown, and now it’s the largest shelter of its kind in the former Soviet Union. This has made Mokhnenko a hero to most, but others consider him a fame-hungry renegade who deliberately works outside the law in order to push his own agenda. Regardless of which side of the coin he falls on, one thing is clear: he has been making a noticeable difference in his country for the better part of two decades with no sign of slowing down.
Hoover’s presentation of this man’s story is expertly crafted, ingeniously drawing parallels between Gennadiy Mokhnenko’s story and a famous Ukrainian children’s program called Crocodile Gennadiy. The film periodically cuts to a brief clip from the odd animated program that –with eerie precision – strangely matches up with the narrative of the film.
The visuals are outstanding, with Hoover capturing some genuinely harrowing and dreadfully sad moments and presenting everything in a very cinematic, yet tasteful, package. The harsh industrial sound of Atticus Ross’ excellent score helps accentuate the cold bitterness of this place and the horrible conditions in which people are living.
Almost Holy is a deeply troubling film, but the message behind it is pure, and the work of Mokhnenko is an inspiration to anyone who feels like they can’t make a difference in the lives to those around them. This is easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year and a highly recommended watch.