FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS of Jehane Noujaim’s documentary on the Egyptian Crisis, The Square, comes Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, a documentary on the 93 days of civil unrest in Kiev which began as peaceful student protests and became a violent revolution.
What struck me most about Winter on Fire was the way in which it captured the ability of ordinary people to mobilise and organise spontaneously and to fill the roles that best fit their skills. We see almost overnight the young people of Kiev erecting food trucks and clothes stalls and places from which to distribute flyers and pamphlets, and later we see the cab drivers form a sort of cavalry, the bravest (or most reckless) demonstrators go to the front line to spar with police and the most articulate and charismatic make speeches on microphones.
Winter on Fire didn’t quite hold my attention in the way The Square did, despite their similarities, and I suppose this might be because I knew what followed the Euromaidan (the Russian annexation of Crimea) and that diluted one of the film’s most powerful messages concerning the power of the people to force out a Government that no longer serves their interests. Winter on Fire fails to address this, relegating any information on the subsequent Crimea crisis and the thousands of lives lost to a line of text on a black screen at the very end. Compare this again with The Square, in which the Egyptian “revolution” also fails in the sense that the Muslim Brotherhood allies with its former enemies and installs Mohamed Morsi–who later went on to proclaim himself “pharoah”–as president. Unlike Winter on Fire, however, The Square ends on a positive note, with the intensely likeable Ahmed Hassan saying, with a smile, that he and his fellow revolutionaries will simply continue to remove leaders from power until the right one comes along. I appreciate that timing and other factors may not have permitted the inclusion of more footage in Winter on Fire, but to end the film in the way it was does leave you with the distinct impression that the 93 days of Euromaidan was all for nothing, or worse–that it inadvertently set the wheels in motion for a bloodier conflict and a new form of oppression far more brutal than the one against which the young people of Kiev were railing.
Where it is superior to The Square is in its depiction of its antagonists, the forces of the Government and particularly the thuggish agents provocateurs, the Tutushkiy. As the protesters rapidly mobilise, the forces of Yanukovych become increasingly more brutal, and become increasingly reliant on the Tutushkiy– mercenary members of the public–to do the things they, by law, cannot. And then there are the individuals within the police and military who seem to recognise the immorality of their actions and their common cause with the demonstrators but feel bound either by loyalty or sense of duty or lack of options to continue to beat and brutalise those on the other side, and Afineevsky portrays these people with some sympathy.
It seems a trivial point but I would rather those interviewed in the film explained the circumstances that led to Euromaidan than a monotone voiceover and computer graphics, computer graphics which, I think unnecessarily, also crop up several times throughout the film to illustrate the location of various places in central Kiev.
I enjoyed the film in any case, but if you want to see one film about revolution by the people on the ground then watch The Square.