• Film

Maidan: Sergei Loznitsa’s Relevant, Powerful Documentary

In 2014, Sergei Loznitsa, one of Ukraine’s most prominent filmmakers, directed Maidan, a powerful documentary focusing on the Euromaidan movement of 2013 and 2014 in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

As is well known, the Euromaidan movement has advocated political freedom, civil and human rights, and closer ties with the West (with or without affiliation with NATO).

Maidan, which was shot during the protests, depicts different aspects of the revolution, ranging from peaceful rallies to bloody clashes between police and civilians.

Loznitsa has devoted his entire career to political filmmaking. He was born in 1964 in Baranovichi, Belarus (at that time part of the Soviet Union), but later his family moved to Kyiv, Ukraine, where he finished high school. In 1987, he graduated from Kyiv Polytechnic Institute as a mathematician. Between 1987 and 199, he worked in the Institute of Cybernetics. In 1997, he graduated with honors from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography.

In 2010, his film My Joy played in the main competition at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, and two years later, he returned to Cannes with his film In the Fog. Both films were well received by critics.

Maidan had its world premiere at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and enjoyed a limited theatrical release in the U.S. and other countries later that year. Some markets opted for showings on February 20, 2015, which marked the anniversary of the revolution in Ukraine.

The film explores the protests and violence in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), which eventually led to the overthrow of corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych.

The lyrics of the Ukrainian National Anthem make a fitting beginning for a film on the Euromaidan demonstrations and the subsequent Russian aggression: “Ukraine’s glory has not yet perished, nor has her freedom. Upon us fellow patriots, fate shall smile once more.”

Defying the notions that Ukraine’s freedom is a lost cause, and that the lame-duck administration no longer has anything to say or to do, Maidan shows that, when the Ukrainians unite with a common purpose, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Kyiv’s central city square is currently known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square. It was previously known as Soviet Square, Kalinin Square (honoring Stalin loyalist Mikhail Kalinin), and the Square of the October Revolution.

In late 2013, outraged Ukrainians took to the square, protesting Yanukovych’s decision to reject an association agreement with the EU, in accordance with Moscow’s wishes.

Protests did erupt in Maidan, the scene of many Orange Revolution demonstrations following Yanukovych’s suspect election in 2004, but it was far from the “pogrom” that Vladimir Putin had suggested.

In Maidan, Loznitsa captures his countrymen’s collective spirit by means of direct cinema documentary. Few other films have so powerfully conveyed the spirit of collective action and the sense of individual commitments to a larger cause.

There are long takes and wide-angle crowd shots, allowing Loznitsa and his fellow cameraman Serhiy Stefan Stetsenko to capture the epic scale and tragic mood of the protests.

Loznitsa does not focus on representative figures, instead maintaining a macro perspective throughout. Nevertheless, we are able to observe the trends and magnitude of the situation.

At first, there is a rather hopeful sense that things will change. Volunteers are seen making sandwiches and distributing tea to regular Sunday night demonstrators. Maidan presents events as they happened, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Unfortunately, the gullible media accepted Putin’s smears at face value, and Yanukovych would unleash the Interior Ministry’s Berkut forces.

Loznitsa’s film is truly unscripted, and the director and his co-cinematographer are seen caught in a tear gas attack. They continue to maintain the same long fixed approach, emphasizing the pleas for medical personnel to come to the area and treat the wounded.

The ending is emotionally devastating: Loznitsa concludes the film with a funeral for two fallen activists, and although we do not know their personal backstories, it is impossible not to feel empathy.

The individual stories of the Maidan supporters, which desperately needed to be heard, were recorded in Dmitriy Khavin’s short documentary Quiet in Odessa, a timely companion piece to Loznitsa’s feature.

In the piece, Jewish residents of Odessa tell stories of their newly found patriotism and share their thoughts on how recent events have affected the community in the aftermath of Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution and violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian supporters,

Maidan has not yet been shown in Russia, and, in light of the events of the past week, it’s unlikely that it would be released in the near future.

In contrast with most documentaries made in the wake of a historic event, the relevance of Maidan has lasted beyond the previous Ukrainian upheaval to stand as a compelling witness to a seminal moment that is still too fresh to be fully processed.