This February I went on a spur of the moment trip to the campus theater to see “Maidan” with my roommate who was required to go see the film for her Russian class. Getting there, I had very little idea what the movie was about, except that it depicted the Maidan massacre that happened in Ukraine last winter (2013/14). As we ate some Russian h’orderves that were provided with the film screening, two professors from Penn State gave a thirty-minute introduction to the film, because it had no dialog or narrative to explain the events that were shown. At this point, I was unsure what to expect from a movie that required an introduction, would have no narrative, and was filmed throughout the revolution in the Kiev’s Independence Square over the course of several months. However, when I left, I was speechless and proceeded to tell everyone I knew that they had to see it.
Sergei Loznitsa, the director, captured the events through a series of locked shots, with the camera only moving to different locations a few times. At times the camera was positioned indoors where people were making sandwiches for the protestors, sometimes the camera was positioned in the middle of the square or on the main stage, and once the riots and shootings began, the cameramen had to move to a rooftop to protect themselves from teargas, but the camera would remain in each location for fifteen to twenty minutes before showing a different view of Maidan.
The beginning of the documentary showed the beginnings of the revolution with peaceful protests. The Maidan square was filled with around half a million Ukrainians singing national anthems, waiving flags, and cooking food in large boiling pots in the middle of the streets to feed all of the travelers who came to Maidan to participate in the protests. These peaceful protests lasted for a few months, but slowly through the course of the film, the revolution started brewing, culminating in an invasion of armed police. The film showed the protestors setting fires around the square and digging up their own streets to throw bricks and rocks at the police, and it showed the police retaliating with guns as people ran in every direction trying to reorganize themselves. All, or most, of the Ukrainian participants were ordinary citizens standing up for their country against their president Viktor Yanukovych. Since there is no narrative and only subtitles of what is being said in the actual events, mostly from a younger man yelling into a megaphone, the bottom of the screen translated urgent calls for medics to help shot victims and that reinforcements were needed in certain places. The film ended with a funeral for all those who were killed in the square with Ukrainians crying and holding candles and singing their national anthem. The film ended and my eyes were tearing, not from sadness, but because I hadn’t blinked for the second half of the two hour film.
Maidan is one of the most impactful movies I have ever seen. This is not because you see real-life murders happening in the street. It is a truthful depiction of a revolution that plays out right in front of your eyes; it shows the self-destruction of a city as it progresses from peaceful protests and singing to fires, riots, and death. Maidan offers a rare and precious close-up depiction of history in the making, without the bias and showiness from news networks. I cannot think of another instance when the general public has gotten to see and experience something so truthful and untouched, because it isn’t hiding the realities of what is happening in Ukraine but showing it in its purest form (other than actually being there). There is nothing more impactful than the truth laid out before you with zero sugar coating.