top of page
Art is the Enemy of Tyrrany
A man opening up his arms in an empty theater

Art is the Enemy of Tyranny

Ukraine’s rich cultural history poses one of the biggest threats to Russia.  Historically, the Soviet Union banned the works of Ukrainian musicians, writers, and artists. They have attempted to ban the Ukrainian language over 100 times. 
Instead of focusing on destruction, Note of Defiance shifts the narrative towards optimism, illuminating a collective responsibility in preserving cultural contributions. More than a documentary short,  this is a tribute to the human spirit’s capacity for creativity and resilience in the face of destruction.


A Story of Hope
An Ukranian flag in the background of a chapel


A Story
of Hope

In January 2023, we went to Ukraine to film

Note of Defiance, exploring the lives of two artists living near the Ukrainian-Russian border, focusing creativity as a means of survival. 
Through powerful interviews, we learn of the

unique challenges they face during conflict, from censorship and persecution to displacement and trauma. The film concludes with emotional performance in the shuttered National Opera

and Ballet Theatre. 

A woman walking a dog in the rubbles of Kharkiv



The second largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv is 25 miles from the Russian border, making it a primary target for daily missile attacks. 
Kharkiv residents have minutes to seek shelter once air raid alarms sound. Missile strikes occur in residential neighborhoods, destroying apartment complexes, schools, and churches. Missiles strike almost daily, sometimes multiple times per day.

An Ukranian violinist, Vera, looking into the distance with a sparkle in her eyes




During the first few weeks of the war, Vera went viral   as “The Cellar Violinist” after she was filmed playing her violin to comfort her companions in her bomb shelter. She became an icon of resilience as her images inspired the world.
Vera had the opportunity to flee the country but decided to remain since Kharkiv has been her family home for generations. She now plays with an orchestra of 10 people almost daily. She plays to give people something to think about, other than war and destruction. She plays for them, but is healing through her audience. Large gatherings are still dangerous in Kharkiv, so the orchestra plays small concerts wherever they can find space — parks, basements, and parking garages.

An Ukrainian dancer, Roman, gazing up into the sky




When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, most of Roman’s ballet company fled the country, but Roman’s wife was six months pregnant and his mother was very ill, so departing was not an option. 
Roman is a pacifist who struggles with the thought of taking up arms, so he fights for his country in the best way he knows-by inspiring hope and support. From the first days of the war, he and his friends banded together to acquire several buses and deliver supplies to the most vulnerable in their communities. 
Roman believes strongly in the power of dance and works to instill the same values in the next generation. Even though his ballet school was destroyed, he continues to teach his students wherever they can find space. Although Roman has not been able to perform for an audience in over a year, he trains daily, in hopes of returning to the stage.

An empty ballet theatre


Kharkiv State Academic Opera & Ballet Theatre

Throughout the war, Russia has sought to destroy the Ukrainian identity and erase its cultural history. Museums, schools and theatres remained frequent targets of Russian airstrikes.
As one of the city’s most iconic and culturally significant buildings, The National Opera and Ballet Theatre has been hit with multiple missiles strikes and cluster munitions attacks. 
In 2022, the theater was filled with people and echoed with the sounds of music and sights of dance, but today, it sits empty—a haunting reminder of its former vibrancy.

Kharkive State Academic Opera & Ballet Theatre
A silhouette of a man with a Ukrainian chapel in the background


Brian Henderson


“I knew on February 24th, 2022, that what I was witnessing in Ukraine would likely be the most important historical event of my generation. The desire to help was overwhelming. 
As we set out to tell a unique story, it was important for us to maximize social impact, not only through the film we wanted to make, but through all phases of production. We hired a local NGO, Alex21, to provide transportation, lodging and translation services so that every dollar we spent would go back to helping those most impacted by the war. We committed three days from our shooting schedule to make promotional materials for a non-profit, Mission Kharkiv, which provides life-saving chronic medication to civilians in frontline villages. Outside of our small team from the US, each of whom donated their time and resources, everyone we employed was Ukrainian, many of them from Kharkiv. Note of Defiance features exclusively Ukrainian and Russian-speaking locals who have called Kharkiv home for generations and gives a platform for the language, culture, and art of the city.
It’s a privilege to have a platform to make films, and I’m honored to use it to amplify the voices of others. There are many who have been living this reality for over a year, giving more than I could ever imagine. To have them open their lives up to us and allow us the opportunity to show the world their stories is truly humbling to say the least. What we made here was truly special and I can’t wait for the world to see it.”

The Director
Close-up of three female violinists


Creative Contributors

Logo of Mercury Studios

Mercury Studios is a full-service production studio originating, producing, selling, distributing, and investing in scripted, unscripted, and live content. Editorially independent, Mercury Studios is powered by Universal Music Group and represents the world’s leading catalogue of music-related content.

Logo of Stept Studios

Stept Studios is an award-winning, full service production studio best known for telling extraordinary stories that capture human capacity across culture, impact and the arts.

bottom of page