Everything feels significant the first time it happens. That’s what makes high school such a momentous time, even if nothing particularly exciting is happening. Stop-Zemlia follows a class in the lead up to graduation, as they deal with friends, loves, parties, parents, depression – everything that comes with late adolescence, right before the world opens up.

Focusing on a central trio of Masha, Yana, and Senia, we hang out in bedrooms and watch them covertly text in biology lessons. Among their classmates is Sasha, who struggles at home with his mum, and who Masha harbours secret feelings for. But this is just one thing in Masha’s life, along with dancing alone in her room and being messaged on Instagram by a thought-provoking stranger. It could be said that Stop-Zemlia is unfocused, but such is life, and particularly teenage life. By following Masha so closely, the film is about how every moment is a main character moment when everything matters so much.

In-character interviews with the cast punctuate the movie. Much of the film was improvised, with the young actors told what scenes had to achieve but given a lot of freedom to get there. With so many first-time performers, it’s a marvel to see the class gel and embody such different personalities. Masha, played by Maria Fedorchenko, shines in these scenes as an introverted over-thinker, who asks her interviewer if she feels connected to the emotions she felt at Masha’s age. It’s a stunning moment that blurs the lines of acting and documentary, and draws a through-line from our teenage selves to whoever we are now.

Contemplative, naturalistic, and compassionate filmmaking – not to mention its fantastic wardrobe and set designs – breathes life into ­Stop-Zemlia, a little film festival gem that deserves every cheerleader.



CAST: Maria Fedorchenko, Arsenii Markov, Yana Isaienko, Oleksandr Ivanov

DIRECTOR: Kateryna Gornostai

WRITER: Kateryna Gornostai

SYNOPSIS: Hanging out with friends, smoking, spinning bottles and kissing, making mistakes, playing, refusing to accept, dreaming with open eyes – life as a teenager can be overwhelmingly beautiful and difficult at the same time.