Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, ‘Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom’ is a documentary that illustrates the brutal and unfiltered human cost of the conflict in Ukraine. Charting the birth of the conflict from the Maidan Revolution of 2014, the documentary immortalizes the steadfastness of the Ukrainian peoples whilst showcasing the multitude of negative economic, sociological and psychological effects of the war on the population. The film premiered recently at the 79th annual Venice International Film Festival and subsequently the Toronto International Film Festival.
Not for the faint of heart, Freedom on Fire depicts war in its most gruesome and devastating way. From air raid sirens that shatter tranquility to scores of civilians escaping war zones with nothing but their backpacks, the film does not shy away from showing the damage done to the human psyche. Bodies litter the streets, children cry as bombs fall and entire cities are turned to ruin. Footage of children buried under rubble and pregnant women dying due to unavailability of healthcare in the warzone devastate the soul as Afineevsky makes sure to convey the horrible realities of war to everyone across the globe.
The carnage, the sorrow and the sheer destruction depicted has a purpose. Director Evgeny Afineevsky not only wants to show audiences worldwide the conflict from the perspective of civilians but wants the audience to confront the bitter truth of war. Mainstream media and to a lesser extent, social media, shy away from this reality, choosing to censor the pain and suffering inflicted. Afineevsky, on the other hand, realizes that one cannot abhor war without looking at its consequences directly in the eye. The clips of interviews with civilians are interspersed with actual footage of the battles, creating a parallel as to how war directly destroys the very fabric of civilian life.
While the film may have benefited immensely from an expanded dive into the geopolitical factors that brought about and continue to fan flames of the crisis, the film chooses to focus on civilian impact and thereby becomes a celebration of humanity’s perseverance in face of towering odds. The Ukrainian people are depicted as bruised but not defeated as they vow to protect and reclaim each inch of their country in face of the Russian invasion. Their high spirits collide with the climbing death toll of the war as bodies are shown littering the streets in the wake of pitched battles between opposing forces.
Freedom on Fire is therefore a beast of a film. Not only does it succeed in portraying the horrible reality of war, the film also depicts with earnestness and truth the human cost of the ordeal. As the conflict mutates every day, Freedom on Fire showcases an aspect of the war that remains constant: that of human suffering and constant misery. War is hell and there are no victors in it, only victims. Evgeny Afineevsky has therefore made a masterful documentary, one that will resonate well with the discourse of the war effort as the Russian Invasion of Ukraine enters its sixth month and the conflict shows no signs of abating any time soon.
When discussing recent film premieres for ‘Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom’, Afineevsky recalled that at the Q & A sessions, he usually gets the same question: “What should we do?” To this question, the filmmaker encourages people to act and be united in this conflict.
“I am always trying to use my platform as a filmmaker to bring the spotlight on the issue and the voices that need to be heard. I am putting my audience in a place where I have been, to feel the pain, to feel the inspiration, the resilience and great human spirit of the Ukrainians,” he said.
Journalist Nataliia Nagorna and Evgeny Afineevsky| Cultured Focus Awards & Diversity Symposium| Image: Getty
Recently, Afineevsky was awarded the “Excellence in Film Award” during the Cultured Focus Awards and Diversity in Film Symposium at the 79th Venice Film Festival partially due to his collective body of documentary work, but also his bravery as a filmmaker. Afineevsky is a true force for good by not only advocating for positive change the film industry, but the world.
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