Filming your movement – Different views on Maidan

Larissa Mass

pdf: Filming Your Movement

There are different ways to document a movement like the socalled Euromaidan in Kiev: First, it is possible to write about it, secondly to take a photo of personal impressions or to paint them. Another possibility is to film the movement and to produce a documentary to provide a special view on the events. From the beginning of the protests in Ukraine, a few documentaries were produced. Mostly, they have a focus on the development of the protests, the people who are involved and the actions around the main movement. In the following essay, I would like to compare the three documentation projects “Babylon’13”, “All things ablaze” and “Maidan”. They all have different aesthetic demands and views on the protests. The role of the picture is the main focus of my presentation. I will analyse the political potential of special pictures, which occur in each of the three documentaries and influence our opinion on Maidan.

“Babylon’13 – Cinema of Civil Society” is a project on YouTube with meanwhile more than 200 clips, produced by a filmmaker collective. Almost daily, they publish new videos. On their YouTube channel, the videos are grouped in the following subjects: War, Crimea, Donbas, Grushevskogo, Maidan, Winter, that has changed us and Songs of Ukraine. Some videos have 10.000 to 250.000 views on YouTube, so there is a high public attention on this project. The producers of “Babylon’13” underline that they want to portray the demonstrators as well as the events and take a look at stories that are not present in the official media. In their manifesto, the group points out:

“The new civil society generates meaningful ideas. But at the moment there are too little of those, who are ready to fulfil these ideas. This circle has to grow and then we’ll get a chance to persuade the whole Ukraine that time has come to begin vast social reforms. And, strictly speaking, a documentary is a tool that is able to change people’s perception of reality.”

They want to spread an authentic picture of the protests not only in Ukraine but all over the world. Consequently, most of the videos are also available with English subtitles.

The aesthetics and the quality of the films vary a lot because they are produced by different people. Some videos seem to be filmed with a smartphone, and yet others have high aesthetic visual effects, as if they are produced by a professional film team.

All in all, the videos seem to be directly involved in the protests on Maidan and in the war in East Ukraine. Every clip gives the impression to be very close to the action. But they also present stories behind the events on Maidan, for example, an interview with two old village residents. They continue their everyday life and do not understand what is going on in Kiev. “What do they want in damn Europe? Under the leadership of Yanukovych everything was ok”, they answer to the interviewer, who asked, what they think about the revolution.

On the other hand, “All things ablaze – Ukraine. Winter 2013-2014. Witnessing from the middle of the fire” shows only pictures of the protests directly on Maidan.

The three young Ukrainians Oleksandr Tetschinskij, Aleksej Solodunow and Dmitrij Stójków filmed during the protests on Maidan. The project started as a kind of video diary, which was sent to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The videos were designed to create a picture from the heart of Kiev for people in foreign countries who are interested in what is happening in Ukraine.

The aestehtic form is typical for documentaries. The team uses a little hand camera without a tripod. Thus, the operator is very fast in documenting the happenings around him. Therefore, the pictures are often blurred. All in all, the emphasis is on scenes, dialogues and actions of individuals but not on individual protagonists themselves.

After 30 minutes, there is the most impressing scene in the movie: Something explodes and it seems like the camera guide has to run for his life together with the crowd of people. Despite this, the camera is still filming. The center of all scenes is the theme of brutality: Every few minutes, there is an explosion, people run for their lives, others cry, a lot of blood is shown, wounds, and victims. Because of all the details and the close shots on protesters, the film seems to be very authentic.

In contrast, the documentary “Maidan” is more artistical within its film aesthetic and arouses the impression to have a distance to the events and protests. The Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa filmed from December 2013 to February 2014.

He shows the Maidan as a movement of ordinary people in carefully composed stills like protesters camping in a school or volunteers handing food and drinks to the crowd.

A few minutes, the camera is on a tripod and films the same shot without any movement or cut. For example, a scene in front of a stair: protesters pass, discuss with each other and sometimes pose for pictures. Often in Loznitsa’s film, there are different takes of the crowd on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. In a medium long shot, he shows the faces of the crowd listening to speeches, singing the national anthem and shouting “Glory to Ukraine!” This was, of course, also Maidan, namely what happened beyond the fights.

The aesthetic of the film is quite significant, it is more a movie than a typical documentary. It is mostly filmed using a static camera on a tripod and, therefore, it reminds its viewer of surveillance footage. In “Maidan”, there is no protagonist; every minute, the masses are in the picture. At this point, it is worth mentioning that the sound is not the original of the filmed scenes but Losnitza put different sounds under the pictures. However, this “fake sound” is well chosen and, therefore, seems to be realistic and creates the illusion of reality.

Compared to “All things ablaze”, there are rarely brutal scenes in “Maidan”. Rather, it leads to the impression of an almost calm movement.

In general, every documentation is subjective; the presentation of events depends on the angle of perspective. In all three projects, the intention is to show what has happened “behind” the officially known pictures, which the international public can see in broadcast media. According to Michael Diers catch-pictures-studies, the three documentaries have common pictures: The Ukrainian and other flaggs are often shown; also the stage on Maidan for speeches and activities is a central symbol. In these documentaries, mostly young men appear with hard and dirty faces. Women are shown in the background, preparing food, waiting in villages or crying for victims. In “Babylon’13” and “All things ablaze”, there are also guns, prepared molotow cocktails, flames, blood, injuries and victims.

Probably the most powerful images, in public media as well as in all three documentations, are the pictures of the whole crowd of people. Although “Babylon’13” has some single interview clips with individual persons or follows a certain protagonist, all in all the project still shows the big collective mass taking part in the protest.

Please find comments and quotes in the pdf document