Russian-born director risking his life to deliver Oscar worthy documentary

Evgeny Afineevsky. Photo: Vera Ivanova

Evgeny Afineevsky. Photo: Vera Ivanova 

2016/01/05 • Op-ed

Article by: Natalka Volya

Evgeny Afineevsky had a wild ride while filming “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom”, the undeniably moving and inspiring documentary (now available on Netflix.) As if the stirring real-life drama were not enough while filming the movie in Kyiv under the snipers bullets and Molotov cocktails streaks, the director faced several death threats after the movie hit the big screen at the international film festivals.

WINTER ON FIRE had an astonishing success at Telluride Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival, and it became a winner of the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Ignoring the death threats, Evgeny Afineevsky continued his mission as an artist:

“As a filmmaker, you want to tell the story to the world, but to me, it became a tribute to the people who stood against corruption. The people are the power.”

Official poster for Winter on Fire

Official poster for Winter on Fire

Born in Russia, raised and educated in Jerusalem, the American filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky has previously made a number of documentaries and currently is working on his new project about refugees in Syria.

Back in November 2013 Evgeny Afineevsky flew to Kyiv, Ukraine, to observe Ukraine’s fight for its identity and capture the revolution on film. The result is the powerful and inspiring documentary of anti-government demonstrations that startled the world.

“A friend called and said, ‘You need to come down here, history is being made,'” said Afineevsky, who packed a camera and flew to Kyiv from his home in Los Angeles to capture the Ukrainian student uprising. “It was young people wanting their voices heard. Then it started to unfold, the police beatings…. It was so strange and so horrible.”

After the Ukrainian police’s cruel attack and brutally beating of students, the public outrage erupted and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians gathered at the Independence Square (Maidan.) The film captured 93 days of anti-government demonstration now known as “The Revolution of Dignity”.

The uprising against the corrupted regime ended with gunfire, Molotov cocktails, beatings and coffins. At least 125 people had been killed, 65 were missing and 1,890 had been injured. The documentary that takes viewers behind the lines of the Ukrainian uprising in 2013-2014 received the highest reviews from the local media: A.O. Scott (New York Times) called the movie “Powerful” because it tells “a vivid tale of heroism and villainy” and “Mr. Afineevsky succeeds brilliantly”.

Mark Johnson from Awards Circuit noted it was “the best documentary I’ve seen this year” and Tricia Olzewski (The Wrap) identified the film as “a testament to the human spirit.” Los Angeles Times’s Kenneth Turan wrote that WINTER ON FIRE “is imbued with a single and quite heartening spirit” and it is “an examination of what societal change looks like moment to moment.”

It is noteworthy that the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, awarded WINTER ON FIRE director Evgeny Afineevsky with the Cross of Ivan Mazepa. Ukrainian President noted that it was the first time such award was presented to a foreigner. He noted symbolism of the fact that the medal for significant contribution was given to the American of Russian descent. “On behalf of the Ukrainian people, I am grateful for the work you’ve done,” the Ukrainian President said.

Last week Evgeny Afineevsky’s ‘Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” received yet another mark of recognition – it has been named “The Best movie of the Year” by Buro 24/7.

 

 

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