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Kachalka

9 minutes

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A gym built of Soviet-era scraps is a creative community hub in Kyiv, 2019

First shown on Psyche in 2021, Kachalka is now being re-released by its director, Gar O’Rourke, who writes:

Kachalka was made in Kyiv a couple of summers ago, in a moment in time that seems a far cry away from the tragedy currently taking place. Although this film shows a very different reality to what we are currently seeing in Kyiv and around the rest of Ukraine, I hope this short film helps to shine a light on the Ukrainian spirit and what makes it truly unique. The intention behind this film was to capture the incredible sense of community and ingenuity that exists at the heart of this Kyiv gym, and I think this is something that speaks to the stories we are hearing from Ukraine in this present time.

The word ‘Kachalka’ derives from the Ukrainian for ‘to pump’ and, as this one’s built from scrap metal, it would be easy to think of it as a Muscle Beach Venice, way east of Los Angeles – a place for hardbodies only. But, in fact, the semi-legendary open-air gym is for everyone, whether they want to get as buff as a World’s Strongest Man competitor, land a few blows at a punch-bag built from car tyres, or simply pose awhile on the machines. O’Rourke’s short documentary, made in 2019, frames Kachalka with a light touch and a droll eye: there’s an inherent humour to the proceedings, as everything from massive, brawny hands to high heels meet the metal of the squeaky, makeshift machines.

What’s striking is just how serious and how elderly many of these gym users are. But beneath their earnest self-absorption, the film captures the communal nature, deep resourcefulness and creative spirit inherent in the space. After all, this distinctive gym wasn’t built for novelty, but out of necessity. The film’s narrator – an unnamed regular – explains how Kachalka was born during Soviet times, when factory workers collected scrap metal and brought tools from work to build the fitness space. That gym regular says he wants to keep ‘the Mecca of Kyiv sport’ alive as part of a team who help design and weld new machines to keep visitors coming. ‘I have completely actualised myself here,’ he explains.

Director: Gar O’Rourke

Producer: Ken Wardrop

Websites: Screen Ireland, Venom Films