Netflix seems to be building a sort of auteurist curatorial attitude in their documentary pick-ups. Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Winter on Fire” resembles the streaming service’s 2013 doc “The Square” in many ways – beyond just the fact that both scored Oscar nominations. The two films take a democratic approach to people’s protests calling for democracy, mostly outsourcing the video to footage taken in the popular uprisings and presenting context where necessary.
Afineevsky, however, might have done well to stick by a more verité, found footage style of documentary filmmaking. Context is important to understanding the 2013-2014 Euromaidan Revolution, and he presents it succinctly and clearly during the opening credits. But he overloads the explanatory retrospective interviews throughout “Winter on Fire,” which both disrupts the narrative and detracts from the power of the images. When the police beat a citizen’s head so brutally that his brains have spilled on the street, the visual is strong enough to speak for itself.
He also might have been smart to pick a protagonist or some person that the audience can follow throughout the 93 day demonstration – besides ousted Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovych, that is. It makes sense given the collective nature of the protest, which united the country against Yanukovych’s maneuverings to align Ukraine with the interests of Russia rather than heed the will people to join the E.U. “Winter on Fire” is the story of all, not the story of one. But the lack of entry points into experiencing the fight for freedom as something more than a citizen-journalist news report demonstrate the limitations of turning that spirit into a narrative. B /