Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom


Ukrainian police fire on unarmed protesters.

Ukrainian police fire on unarmed protesters.

(2015) Documentary (Netflix) Ekaterina Averchenko, Mustafa Ayyem, Maksim Panov, Eduard Kurganskiy, Diana Popova, Aleksandr Staradub, Ivan Sydor, Timur Ibraimov, Cissy Jones (narrator), Kamiliya Zahoor, Said Ismagilov, Vladimir Makarevich, Sergei Kibnuuski, Volodymyr Parasyuk, Aleksandr Pyovanov, Oleksandr Melnyk, Catherine Ashton. Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky

A wise man once said that while it is easy to see when a revolution ends, it is much more difficult to discern when it begins. That wasn’t the case with the Ukrainian revolution of 2014, also called the EuroMaidan revolution or just the Maidan revolution. named for Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square in central Kiev (the Ukrainian capital) which was the staging ground for most of the events of the uprising. To paraphrase Gil Scott-Heron, this revolution was televised.

After then-president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the trade agreement with the European Union that he had promised to sign, journalist Mustafa Ayyem and others sent out messages on Facebook and other social media to gather in Maidan to protest. At first only a few dozen showed, but by the end of the evening there were thousands in the square.

The protesters would remain in Maidan for 93 days amid escalating retaliation from the State Police, or Berkut. went from beatings with truncheons, stun grenades and arrests for disorderly conduct to firing into the crowd with rubber bullets and eventually with live ammo. Backed by convicts and thugs paid by the government called titushky the pro-government forces clashed more and more violently with the anti-government forces which were now calling for Yanukovych to resign, culminating in five days in February which large-scale rioting took place and police brutality rose to sadistic levels.

International outcry was deafening as even the International Monetary Fund suspended activities within the Ukraine due to the unrest. Yanukovych finally resigned and fled the country for Russia, with whom he had been in secret negotiations. His government was toppled and new elections held. As the documentary itself notes, that didn’t end the violence however; Russia would annex the Crimean peninsula and pro-Russian activists in the Eastern Ukraine erupted in a civil war that continues to this day. More than six thousand Ukrainians have been killed in the conflict.

Russian/Israeli docu-journalist Afineevsky was on the ground in the Ukraine for the duration of the uprising and documented it as thoroughly as it can be – 28 cameramen and women were credited on the film and some of the footage appears to have been captured on cell phone cameras as well. The footage is quite frankly amazing; we see hordes of police descending on unarmed protesters and beating the holy crap out of them. We see people shot and literally die in front of our eyes.

What the film doesn’t do is provide any balance. There were incidents of violence involving protesters but these are never shown; we are given a political line here which I don’t think that the filmmakers realized would have been made stronger if we had heard some opposing voices as well. While I’m not trying to say that justification for the violence and brutality should have been provided, one gets the feeling that we’re hearing only one side of the story which makes it maddeningly incomplete.

Still, in presenting that single side the filmmakers are commendably thorough. Graphics illustrate the locations of the various clashes and show the routes of protest marches. The filmmakers also resist the urge that many documentaries in the last few years have followed in padding their films with animated sequences. Every image we see here other than the informational graphics is either live footage of the uprising or interviews with the participants after the fact.

The Ukraine is, surprisingly, one of the most multi-cultural nations on earth with a variety of religions and ethnic groups that live there (there’s a particularly large Muslin/Arabic ethnic population living in Kiev) and religious leaders played a major role in the protest. Time and time again throughout the film the anti-government activists boast that all of the various religions were united as one; we get that this wasn’t a religious conflict but a political one.

There are still some pro-Russian sorts who call this uprising a coup d’état rather than a true popular uprising (only about 40% of Ukrainians supported the protesters according to contemporary polls). However, there is no doubt that Yanukovych was entirely corrupt as was his administration and once he began ordering his police to fire on his own people with live ammunition he lost what little moral authority he might have had to begin with.

If this is a propaganda piece as it strongly feels like it is, it is an entirely effective one. There is no doubting the courage of the protesters standing up to armed and armored police officers while completely unarmed, an eerie foreshadowing of police militarization in our own country which thankfully hasn’t led to the kind of violence that we saw in Kiev. 75 people died during the uprising, mostly protesters. Yanukovych is now wanted internationally in connection with the police actions and for allegedly having looted more than $75 billion from the Ukrainian treasury.

Watching the images of the beatings and the shootings is absolutely heartbreaking at times – but inspiring throughout. I’m half-Ukrainian so I do have a bit of a dog in this hunt and I have to say that I have never been prouder of my heritage than I was during the extraordinary events of these 93 days in the winter of 2013-14. While the story is far from being over, it is a story that is worth telling. I just wish they’d told both sides of it.

REASONS TO GO: Incredible footage. Thorough presentation of the anti-Yanukovych point of view. Easy to follow and understand.
REASONS TO STAY: Extremely one-sided point of view.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence, profanity and some disturbing images of injuries and corpses.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gujarat, the Indian state that Vasant and Champa Patel were from, also was the home state of Gandhi.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Square
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: 99 Homes

11-11-11


(

Timothy Gibbs is as bewildered as you are.

Timothy Gibbs is as bewildered as you are.

2011) Horror (Rocket) Timothy Gibbs, Michael Landes, Wendy Glenn, Benjamin Cook, Lolo Herrero, Salome Jimenez, Brendan Price, Denis Rafter, Angela Rosal, Lluis Soler, Jose Bertolero, Oscar Velsecchi, Jose Antonio Marin, Luis Alba, Jesus Cuenca, Titus Ferrer, Alejandro Gil, Jason Abell, Emilie Autumn, Patrizia Medrano. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

They say that the secret to the universe is written in numbers. I call it mathematic mysticism – a belief that the universe is controlled in a supernatural way by math and numbers. While I can get behind science and mathematics as the language of creation, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to think that numbers control our destiny.

Joseph Crone (Gibbs) would probably like a word with whomever or whatever is controlling his destiny. A bestselling author of thrillers, he is bitter and alone after his wife and son died in a fire while he was away. Since then he has had frequent nightmares about their deaths and has been unable to write a single word despite pressure from his agent to follow up on his last book which sold more than 5 million copies.

He is also attending grief therapy class along with comely widow Sadie (Glenn). There is a bit of a connection between them and he begins to open up, telling her he’s been seeing the number 11 a lot lately, particularly in groups of two i.e. nightmares taking place precisely at 11:11pm, a car crash taking place at 11:11am, that sort of thing. Then, he gets word from his estranged brother Samuel (Landes) that their father (Rafter) is dying.

Joseph flies back to Barcelona to be with his family. Samuel is confined to a wheelchair after an auto accident and he and dad are cared for by Ana (Rosal), the housekeeper who’s been keeping a diary and who makes creepy pronouncements. Samuel has become pastor of his father’s church during his illness and despite Samuel’s best efforts attendance is dwindling. Joseph has long since lost his faith, figuring any God who could let his family die in a fire was someone he largely had no interest in getting to know.

Demonic apparitions begin to show at 11:11pm and increasingly inexplicable and largely scary events begin to lead Joseph to the conclusion that yes, there are more things under the sun than can be explained by men and as he does further research begins to come under the sneaky suspicion that something bad is going to happen to Samuel on November 11, 2011. But can someone who has no faith stop something that requires faith to believe in it?

Bousman, who has directed several films in the Saw series, goes the demonic route here and surprisingly for him keeps the blood and gore to a bare minimum. Bousman does an adequate job of creating an environment that is spooky to the max but then populates it with few genuine scares. Mostly one just gets a creepy feeling, like watching a snake swallow a rat. Now if the rat were to suddenly leap out of the snake’s flesh with bared fangs and red glowing eyes…

But I digress. Part of the problem is that Gibbs is playing Joseph as emotionally cut off and almost zombie-like. Now, grief can cause one to shut off one’s feelings and I get that – however, for the purposes of a movie, the hero needs to at least show something other than numbness. He also needs to vary the tones of his dialogue so that he doesn’t sound like a robot. Gibbs is a handsome fellow, sort of a cross between Dermot Mulroney and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but handsome alone can’t carry a film.

Bousman is actually a very entertaining speaker and does some of the best commentaries in the DVD business and he spends a good deal of time lamenting about budget constraints that take the initial climactic battle from 1,111 demons to five guys in rubber masks. You get what you pay for in that sense.

I think Bousman was successful enough at creating a scary atmosphere that the film succeeds overall if just barely. However, this isn’t the kind of movie that will scare you out of your seat. It might just give you the willies so chicken-hearted horror film fans, take note.

WHY RENT THIS: Atmospheric and creepy.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks real scares. Acting is less than convincing. Been-there-done-that demons.

FAMILY VALUES: It’s a horror film so, like, some horrible things happen. There’s also a bit of violence, some disturbing images and a few thematic concerns.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bousman states on the commentary track that he believes the house they filmed in Barcelona in was actually haunted and goes on to recount some unexplainable activity that occurred while shooting took place.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.2M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Number 23

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Day 4 of Six Days of Darkness 2013!!