×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom’

An impressive amount of video footage and interviews went into Evgeny Afineevsky’s instant-history treatment of Ukraine’s 2014 revolution.

With:
Dmytro Holubnychyy, Ekaterina Averchenko, Mustafa Nayyem, Valerii Zalevskiy, Maksim Panov, Olena Stadnik, Ruslana Lyzhychko, Katya Korinyko, Pavlo Dobryanskyy, Eduard Kurganskyi, Vladimir Kugilyov, Oleksandr Melnyk, Alexander Pyvovarov, Diana Popova, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Anna Levitanskaja, Volodymyr Parasyuk, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, Said Ismagilov, Vladimir Makarevich, Timur Ibraimov, Andrey Yanchenko, Kamaliya Zahoor, Sergei Kibnovsky, Mykhailo Havryliuk, Taras Sych, Ivan Sydor, Alexandr Starodub, Valery Dovgiy, Yuriy Krivenko, Roman Savelyev, Serhiy Nigoyan, Kristina Berdinskikh, Natan Hazin, Bishop Agapit, Bogdan Dubas, Gagik Nigoyan, Iuliia Volkova, Denis Serhiienko, Archbishop Petro Malchuk, Serhii Averchenko, Anna Kovalenko. Narrator: Cissy Jones. (Ukrainian, Russian, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4908644/reference

The 2014 Ukrainian revolution that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych receives straightforward coverage via the sights and sounds of people on the ground in Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.” Taking a more traditional history-in-the-making approach than Sergei Loznitsa’s “Maidan,” the docu corrals an impressive amount of video footage but is hamstrung by its rose-tinted “the people united will never be defeated” p.o.v. Getting swept up in the immediate excitement is entirely understandable, but ignoring the less savory elements, such as ultra-nationalist rhetoric, is problematic at best. Backing by Netflix will markedly boost exposure, especially if marketed as a Ukrainian version of popular docu “The Square.”

Russian-Israeli director Afineevsky (“Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!!”) was on the ground throughout the popular uprising, coordinating a large team of cameramen and women (28 are credited) who covered various locations throughout the difficult, at times frighteningly violent three-plus months. To ensure the broadest international viewership, Afineevsky then wooed noted editor Angus Wall to board as one of the producers; Wall re-envisioned the docu’s approach “to create a more compelling narrative” that would be readily comprehensible to all. The resulting film is certainly easy to follow — arranged by day, with helpful maps pinpointing the various flare-ups.

In addition, the docu more or less sticks to one viewpoint: The people of Ukraine were furious that Yanukovych went behind their backs to forge closer alliances with Putin’s Russia, when what they really wanted was firmer ties to Europe. As an underlying narrative for the capital Kiev, the account is true, yet it ignores large parts of the country’s Eastern provinces, some of which are currently fighting for either greater independence or Russian annexation.

Popular on Variety

Instead, “Winter on Fire” presents a single-opinion storyline, utilizing a wealth of interviews from a notably diverse group of people who reinforce the idea that everyone was working toward a common goal: Activists, doctors, retired military, religious leaders and entertainers all describe the feelings of euphoria, followed by fear and resolve as the demonstrators became ever more determined to bring down Yanukovych (whose monumental corruption is oddly never addressed).

All started peacefully in November 2013, when journalist Mustafa Nayyem and others put out a Facebook call for people to gather in Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in protest at Yanukovych’s reluctance to forge closer ties with Europe. A party atmosphere prevailed in those early days, but then the Berkut (special police forces) were called in, using truncheons indiscriminately against protesters. As the crowd became more organized, the Berkut increased the level of violence, assisted by hired thugs known as Titushky.

Barricades were erected and melees ensued, with the Berkut showing no compunction in attacking medical facilities set up to tend the wounded. Yanukovych’s parliament passed repressive laws to stop the gatherings, but by then the people refused to budge, and the Berkut exchanged rubber bullets for live ammo. By the time Yanukovych fled on Feb. 22, 2014, 125 people had been killed, with 65 missing and 1,890 injured.

Unlike Loznitsa with “Maidan,” Afineevsky isn’t aiming for artistic rigor: This is simplified instant history as triumphalist narrative, with only a bit of text at the very end to say that the country remains in turmoil following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “Winter on Fire” is a more accessible film, with greater TV appeal, but it’s also more limited by its insistence on shoehorning everything into one perspective, albeit a perspective shared by many. It’s nice to hear interfaith voices all speaking to a common goal, but one wonders just how united a progressive activist would be with, hypothetically, an ultra-nationalist from the Svoboda party.

Chief editor Will Znidaric deserves much credit for wrangling so much footage into a comprehensible whole that flows easily from day to day without much repetition. Visuals vary in quality but are mostly sharp and often disturbing (there’s a lot of blood), while Afineevsky and Co. do an excellent job making sure the films match what the interviewees are saying. An opening English voiceover, providing a potted history of post-independence Ukraine, is needlessly melodramatic, made worse by histrionic music.

Venice Film Review: 'Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom'

Reviewed online, Rome, Aug. 31, 2015. (In Venice Film Festival — noncompeting; Toronto Film Festival — TIFF Docs.) Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (Documentary – U.S.-Ukraine-U.K.) A Netflix release of a Netflix Documentary presentation of an Afineevsky-Tolmor Prod., UkrStream.TV, SPN Prod. production, in association with Passion Pictures, Campbell Grobman Films, Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment. Produced by Evgeny Afineevsky, Den Tolmor. Executive producers, John Battsek, Lati Grobman, Christa Campbell, Adam Del Deo, Lisa Nishimura, Angus Wall, David Dinerstein, Andrew Ruhemann, Dennis L. Kogod, Nadine Khapsalis Kogod, Bohdan Batruch. Co-producers, Lina Klebanova, Kostyantyn Ignatchuk, Galyna Sadomtseva-Nabaranchuk, Pavlo Peleshok, Yuri Ivanyshyn, Eduard Georgadze.

Crew: Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky. Written by Den Tolmor. Camera (color, DV/HD), Alex Kashpur, Andriy Havryshchuk, Arturas Morozovas, Constantin Shandybin, Damian Kolodiy, Dmytro Patyutko, Eduard Georgadze, Galyna Sadomtseva-Nabaranchuk, Halyna Lavrinets, Ielizaveta Smith, Inna Goncharova, Kirill Kniazev, Kostyantyn Ignatchuk, Lizogub Khrystyna, Maxim Bernakevich, Maria Komar, Oleg Balaban, Oleg Tandalov, Oles Chernyuk, Pavlo Peleshok, Ruslan Ganushchak, Vyacheslav Tsvetkov, Viktor Kozhevnikov, Vladimir Makarevich, Vyacheslav Poliantcev, Vyacheslav Tihonsky, Yuriy Krivenko, Zhenya Shynkar; editor, Will Znidaric; music, Jasha Klebe; sound, Mykhailo Zakytskyi, Mariia Nesterenko; sound editor, Vadim Stolyar; sound designer, Maxim Skorupskij; line producer, Sadomtseva-Nabaranchuk.

With: Dmytro Holubnychyy, Ekaterina Averchenko, Mustafa Nayyem, Valerii Zalevskiy, Maksim Panov, Olena Stadnik, Ruslana Lyzhychko, Katya Korinyko, Pavlo Dobryanskyy, Eduard Kurganskyi, Vladimir Kugilyov, Oleksandr Melnyk, Alexander Pyvovarov, Diana Popova, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Anna Levitanskaja, Volodymyr Parasyuk, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, Said Ismagilov, Vladimir Makarevich, Timur Ibraimov, Andrey Yanchenko, Kamaliya Zahoor, Sergei Kibnovsky, Mykhailo Havryliuk, Taras Sych, Ivan Sydor, Alexandr Starodub, Valery Dovgiy, Yuriy Krivenko, Roman Savelyev, Serhiy Nigoyan, Kristina Berdinskikh, Natan Hazin, Bishop Agapit, Bogdan Dubas, Gagik Nigoyan, Iuliia Volkova, Denis Serhiienko, Archbishop Petro Malchuk, Serhii Averchenko, Anna Kovalenko. Narrator: Cissy Jones. (Ukrainian, Russian, English dialogue)

More Film

  • John Turturro The Batman

    'The Batman': John Turturro to Play Carmine Falcone in New Film

    John Turturro is set to join the cast of Matt Reeves and Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” starring Robert Pattinson. Reeves announced on Twitter that Turturro would be playing Carmine Falcone, the Gotham City gangster and adversary to the Caped Crusader. Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano and Colin Farrell are also on board. Tom Wilkinson had previously [...]

  • Dutch art dealer Jan Six and

    IDFA: Oeke Hoogendijk's 'My Rembrandt' Debuts Trailer Before World Premiere (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer to “My Rembrandt,” directed by Oeke Hoogendijk, which has its world premiere on Sunday in the Masters section of the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The film is set in the world of the art market for paintings by the Dutch Old Master. While art collectors [...]

  • Martin Scorsese'The Irishman' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Martin Scorsese Honored by Palm Springs Film Festival for 'The Irishman'

    Martin Scorsese has been selected by the Palm Springs International Film Festival as the recipient of its Sonny Bono Visionary Award for “The Irishman.” He will be presented the award at the festival’s gala on Jan. 2 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival runs Jan. 2-13. “Martin Scorsese has directed another masterpiece about [...]

  • 'Sunless Shadows' Review: Piercing Iranian Doc

    IDFA Film Review: 'Sunless Shadows'

    “Listen to women” has become the mantra of the MeToo age, though films that entirely follow its simple directive remain relatively few. “Starless Dreams” was one: Mehrdad Oskouei’s superb 2016 documentary engaged in aching, revealing dialogue with multiple teenage girls in a Tehran juvenile correctional facility, lending an open, sympathetic ear to their stories of [...]

  • Trusted reindeer Sven and curious snowman

    'Frozen 2' Heads for Sizzling $130 Million North American Launch

    Disney’s “Frozen 2” is heading for a hot $130 million opening weekend at 4,400 North American locations, early estimates showed Friday. That’s well above the $100 million launch that Disney was forecasting for the sequel, which will provide a much-needed jolt to the moviegoing business. The 2019 North American box office trails last year by [...]

  • The Banker

    Apple Delays 'The Banker' Release Amid Review of Family Accusations

    Apple is delaying the theatrical release of “The Banker,” originally set for Dec. 6 with assistance from Bleecker Street, insiders familiar with the company said. It’s being delayed as the filmmakers review accusations of historical inaccuracy and sexual abuse at the hands of co-producer Bernard Garrett Jr. The film was also set to premiere on [...]

  • Alex Ginno Fully Formed

    Brad Fuller and Andrew Form's Fully Formed Taps Alex Ginno as Head of Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alex Ginno has joined Brad Fuller and Andrew Form’s Fully Formed as head of film. The company has a three-year first-look deal with Paramount, where they recently wrapped production on “A Quiet Place: Part II” and are currently prepping Season 3 of the hit show “Jack Ryan” for Amazon. The second season recently bowed, with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content