oscar nom: winter on fire: ukraine's fight for freedom (evgeny afineevsky, 2015)
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
The you-are-there feeling is intense ... 27 people are listed under “Cinematography by”, including Afineevsky, and they manage to get footage from the inside of a revolution. The “Fight for Freedom” took place from November 21, 2013 to February 23, 2014. Afineevsky makes no pretense of being objective, which is OK by me. The movie is a stirring paean to the bravery of the people of Kiev, who fought for freedom and, if we believe the film, won their freedom. Their actions led to the hated President Viktor Yanukovych sneaking out of the country in the night.
The camera men and women exhibit great bravery, as well, sharing in the tear gas and clubbing and shooting of the enemy. Afineevsky and editor Will Znidaric create an inspiring narrative ... by the end of the movie, you want to become an honorary Ukrainian.
But the single-minded insistence on the point of view of the insurgents leaves too many holes in that narrative. Afineevsky keeps things moving, so that we don’t have a lot of time to think about the greater story. It’s not that we don’t get the perspective of the police as they follow orders and rampage against their fellow Ukrainians (although we don’t). It’s not that we don’t get the perspective of Yanukovych. But something more important is virtually absent from the film: the influence of the Western powers on the events in Ukraine. As Patrick Smith notes, the United States had their own interest in what was going on in Ukraine, and they were involved in the dismissal of Yanukovych, who wanted Ukraine to side with Russia, and the opposition, which wanted to side with the European Union. Plus, Afineevsky dismisses what has happened since the end of the revolution in a couple of sentences at the end of the film. Those sentences are insufficient to address the very real problems of the post-revolution Ukraine.
There is no denying the canny excellence of Winter on Fire. It gives us a perspective on an important event that we don’t often get. But in the desire to present an inspiring story of a revolution, they place narrative above a full examination of the revolution. 7/10. For an equally subjective, you-are-there film that succeeds on a much higher level, check out Patricio Guzmán’s two-part The Battle of Chile.