Virtual activism is what’s on offer in Sergei Loznitsa´s Maidan. The documentary follows the protests in Kiev that ensued after Ukraine’s ex-president Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal to improve EU ties. There is almost no narrative, no single protagonist and the voice comes exclusively from the minimalistic direction.
This isn’t to say it's lazy film-making, on the contrary, the film feels more alive because it places you within the scenes. We are put amongst the scores of people filling out Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), with the volunteers as they prepare soup and warm drinks for the protesters and scarily there when the protests turn ugly.
The strength of the film lies in its focus on the people. The idea that change can only happen when people work together is articulated by the number of scenes that consider the unconsidered.
Hordes of greying citizens remove their fur-lined hats to sing the national anthem and gatherings of protesters camp out together, their hot breath visible against the icy air, are punctuations of daily life. Public speakers rally for high-spirits and a sense of nationalism but even they are kept anonymous to the viewer, respectful of the notion that this is a movement of many.
There has obviously been some sort of a trade-off between storytelling and direction. Whilst cameramen Serhiy Stefan Stetsenko and Mykhailo Yelchev’s fixed shots have captured the protests beautifully, their subtlety may put off those wanting more direction.
This is less about politics and more about anthropology. To understand what it was like over the course of these events is given priority over who, why and what. Most impacting is how recent this all was (December 2013 – February 2014) and the reality that the Maidan protests are just a prologue of what’s to come.
Loznitsa’s passion spills onto the screen just as it did in previous works like My Joy (2010) and In the Fog (2012). It’s never more evident than when anti-protesting legislation is passed and the clashes that lead to the death of over one hundred people, kick in. At one point the former-steady-camera veers wildly off as the crew get too close to the violence.
At a safer vantage point we see smoke rising from the carnage. The movie ebbs out with the protesters chanting “Glory to the heroes!” in defiant yet sombre tones. Maidan is purposeful cinema. Its simplicity aids in creating a fresh and absorbing documentary.
Maidan is released in UK cinemas on February 20th
For more information on the film and screening venues check out the official website
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