Alisa Kovalenko / Ukraine, France, Poland / 2022

Five teens were suffocating in their dying little towns in Eastern Ukraine, shaken by the war and the collapse of the coal mines. One day, they’re given a chance to break free, when an old explorer takes them on a therapy journey to the Himalayas.

‘Expedition 49’, a story of five Ukrainian rebellious teenagers, in search of themselves, stuck in their bleeding little town, Zolote-4, Donbas, a shithole place shaken by the rumble of a lingering war with Russia and the haunting collapse of the coal mines.

Aged 15, Andriy, Lisa, Ruslan, Lera and Ilya want to protest, to struggle against the ambient dullness and boredom. They break the rules and do the 400 blows. Bombs keep falling, while new dangers are looming: mines close, parents lose their jobs.

The kids are in terrible need of oxygen! Like Tom Sawyer, they’re looking for adventure and they dream that something will finally happen in their lives. Andriy wanted to be a miner, like his dad who now pumps water out of the flooded pits near the trenches. Obsessed by his passion for Soviet motorbikes, Andriy smuggles cables, scrap metal, plays hide and seek with soldiers, repairs engines and wants to be the new Elon Musk!

Ruslan struggles to exist in the eyes of his father, a tough ex-cop. Shy, he tries his hand at rap, poorly. But commenting on Counter Strike tournaments online, he earns the salary his dad no longer makes at the coal pit. Ilya wants to be an actor or even enter in politics, but he lacks confidence and gets bullied by the bad boys. Lera, a displaced orphan, sees herself as a photographer. Lisa desperately tries to escape the fate of her mother, a housewife who raised 6 children, sacrificing herself. She wants to get the hell out of there…

Everything’s messed up, until one day a voice echoes on the radio. Valentyn, an old explorer from Kyiv wants to bring kids from the war zone to the Himalayas: a psychological therapy to help kids affected by war overcome their traumas and break the walls around them. For Valentyn, in his 70s, this is the last expedition, number 49.

The kids sneak into this beautiful and uncertain odyssey, and for months they prepare for a real and metaphoric ascension, to find answers: is there a way to the world outside? How to be brave and chase for new horizons? Can you bring some light into your life when you’ve grown up in the most desolate place?

‘Expedition 49’ is neither a war film nor a mountain film. It’s a tender, teen-spirit, adventurous and upbeat chronicle of Donbas, with a taste of anthracite, a capsule of the last golden hours of childhood on the Ukrainian black steppe. It tells of this huge desire of freedom that burns inside each teenager. It is a tribute to the working-class children, who try to reinvent themselves.