From the Maidan Square

A review of Netflix documentary film highlighting the Ukranians restsitance against corruption....

The 2015 Netflix documentary film, by filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, Winter on Fire is a prism of the personal. It is an imagery of unity, patriotism, a worm’s eye view of the Ukrainian revolution and a real-life nostalgic celebration, captured through a simple camera lens. It showcases these Euromaidan protests in Ukraine from 21 November 2013 to 23 February 2014.

The official poster of the Netflix documentary Winter on Fire. Source: Wixstatic.


November 21st 2013, the start of the Euromaidan, the internal public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv, Ukraine. The decision made by the Ukrainian government to not sign the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement, and instead choosing closer ties to Eurasian Economic Union and Russia sparked these protests. A “widespread government corruption” and “violation of human rights in Ukraine” fed these protests which led to the Revolution of Dignity, the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

Ukrainian activists and protestors poured into the central square of Kyiv, the Maidan to protest the repressive measures in the country which led them to oust an autocrat, President Viktor Yanukovich. People, together from different cities in Ukraine, huddled in the frost, were doing a peaceful protest. Some of them painted posters, some wrote “Europe Starts With You” in banners, sang, lighted bonfires, not a beer bottle in sight. People were there to purely fight for their human rights, every single one of them, till the end.

For the people, the protests were more than a demand for closer ties with the European Union, it was also a way of saying no to abuse of power, a rejection of injustice for the Ukrainian people. They took to the streets to denounce the corruption and unfairness, done by the government. The men, women, children of Ukraine followed a peaceful protest as violence delegitimized their movement, but the police was violently dispersing crowds and used brutal force on the protesters, which resulted in over 100 deaths.


On December 11th, the Berkut (riot police of Ukraine) showed up and surrounded Maidan to clear it. Berkut, fully armed were pushing the unarmed civilians and it was slowly breaking up the hand chain that the Maidan protesters had made. At this point, the people were singing the Ukrainian national anthem and hearing it was somehow making their grip stronger. This night showed the Ukrainians how strong unity can be.


Protests took place in the central square of Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Source: Wixstatic.


On the 57th day of this peaceful protest, new laws were passed from the parliament. These stated that if someone wore a helmet they will be jailed, if someone congregated, they will be jailed, if someone was in a car line of five or more, they will be jailed or if someone wore a ski mask, they will be jailed. This was at a time where the temperature was below freezing in Kyiv. The next day people were seen in the streets with kitchen pots on their heads and masks crafted carefully with crayons and glitter, or with anything they could find, and one man was saying “They forgot to put that in these laws. They should add that immediately” to the camera. People interpreted it with such irony.


The documentary shows how, during a midnight assault on the Euromaidan, with hopes of waking up local residents to warn them about the attack by the special forces, a bell ringer rang the bells at the local St. Michael Monastery. The last time these bells were rung was in 1240, eight centuries prior, when the clergy needed to warn people about the Mongol attack on the city.


Source: Wixstatic.


Although the Russian state-owned media portrayed the protests as a xenophobic and nationalist uprising, the protestors at the Euromaidan were incredibly diverse. People came from different parts of Ukraine, spoke many languages, had varied religious beliefs. Even amidst these differences, they all believed in and had only one pro-human rights message. In the documentary, the streets of Kyiv were filled with people fighting for their freedom for three months. Brisk pacing, evocative memories, raw emotions in a wintry landscape.

Among the stories of many brave freedom fighters in Euromaidan, there’s that of Serhiy. In the documentary, I saw Kristina Berdynskykh, a reporter at the Maidan interviewing Serhiy Nigoyan, a 20-year-old activist. He was asking Kristina where she has even seen him for her to interview him and she said that she saw him coming to the Maidan every day and helping people. She then took her phone out to show Serhiy a portrait of him that someone drew during the protests, he looked at it and was smiling in awe. Little did I know he would become the first protester to get killed due to mortal shooting in the protests to come. Only 20, he suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died for his country. His eyes were drawn by someone on that picture Kristina showed him on the interview day for him to see, and after this protest ended another did the same, only it stands tall today for everyone to see.


Source: Wixstatic.


At the end, as the protests continued into December, protestors filled the Kyiv’s city hall and called on Yanukovych to resign. Yanukovych, ahead of an impeachment vote, fled the capital. For some, this could be just another picture of a protest in a history book, old wine in a new bottle type of thing. And yes, protests and wars have happened countless times in different ways but when we turn the pages, feel the anger, share the struggles of people, we realise that the cause or the root of it all was mostly the same every time.

It’s the duty of the governments and the world leaders to steer their people and countries into living with peace with other countries, respecting each other’s values, providing people access to education, employment, food, health care. Understanding each other, strengthening our economies, fighting for injustice, highlighting the importance of dialogue isn’t a one man driven operation. If this world is the play, Ukraine is at the centre stage now, the rest is behind the curtain, hopefully taking notes.


Red Dog’s director brings real-life veterans to the screen

The war film Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan has a novel approach to choosing its cast, writes Kylie Baxter....

Do you call yourself a movie buff? The war film Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan has a novel approach to choosing its cast, writes Kylie Baxter.

Kriv Stenders’ movie Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan features real veterans alongside professional actors. In September the Director sat down for a live interview with the president of the Veterans Film Festival, Warwick Young to discuss the film on Facebook.

Kriv Stenders live on Facebook. Source: Screenshot from the online interview.

The Facebook Live stream included an intimate audience of 14 guests. According to the New York Times Magazine, the film features an ensemble and crew of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans were from the organisation Ex-tra Specialist, who train and assist vets in gaining employment in the entertainment industry. Shawn Barry is a part of Ex-tra Specialist and worked closely with Kriv Stenders to assist the veterans’ transition to work on set and helping the feature film come to life.

“Vets and actors working side by side, was invaluable and [we] could not [have made] the film without them,” said Stenders.

Veteran Mike Kingston trains star Travis Fimmel. Source: Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan FB Page.

According to Stenders, working alongside vets, the actors were able to use the knowledge and experience to curate a genuine connection with character and context fully. Furthermore, Stenders explained how the vets brought their physicality on set ready for action, whereas the actors needed more time to become a soldier. In the film the veterans worked on stage, filling sandbags, stunts, as extras and some even had speaking roles

According to the Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan Facebook page, veteran Tim Weir played the real-life Laurie Drinkwater who was a soldier during the battle and is still alive today.

“We were very lucky. At the time, I wasn’t aware and didn’t appreciate how amazing the contribution [of] Shawn Barry [and] Special Ex-tras [was] going to be. [Using vets in the film] was more of an experiment,” Stenders said.

Veterans holding artillery props. Source: Danger Close: Battle of Long Tan FB Page.

According to Stenders, the film almost did not happen due to a lack of time and funding. The casting wasn’t complete until the week before production, and they were scouted from actors, veterans, and crew from Queensland. Stenders mentioned how most days they were just trying to get through the next hour, because of how many complicated shots they had to do in such a limited time. “The film is a miracle. It shouldn’t have been made,” he says.

The crew and Stenders used the fear of not finishing the film to energise them and make them work harder. Stenders says what got them through the hardship of the film was knowing how important the story is.

According to HLA Management who represents Stenders described him as “one of Australia’s most renowned, respected, and prolific film directors with numerous critically acclaimed and award-winning shorts, documentaries, music videos, television commercials, television series and feature films to his credit.”

During the interview, host Young introduced Stenders as a diligent and hardworking Australian director. Stenders completed Danger Close in 2019 and has two new feature-length films coming in 2020.

Audience members utilised the commenting and reaction features of Facebook Live during the event.

Rob Cox, a Vietnam veteran, said, “Thank you for telling our story. This movie was so different, from the usual Vietnam US version. We, as Vietnam veterans could relate to this wonderful movie. A moving tribute to your movie, no one in the cinema left their seat until all the credits rolled and applauded at the end.” His comment attracted love and like reactions from the online audience.

“Enjoyed it, this would have been difficult to put together. Especially wanting to please the moviegoers but most importantly the surviving vets and families” said Russell Murray Barnsley, radio presenter and National Serviceman at Australian Army.

In 2019 the film won the Red Poppy Award for Best Feature Film presented by Westpac and Sergeant Joseph Cecil Thompson Award for Best Music.


Crazy Rich Asians – Film review

“It’s films like this that motivates aspiring Asian filmmakers to get more involved in the film industry"...

2018 has been known as the year of diversity in regards to Hollywood films. With the success of titles such as Love Simon, Black Panther, and Wonder Woman, receiving rave reviews on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and earning millions in the box office. It’s clear that Hollywood is now slowly transitioning to diverse storytelling using diverse cast and crew. So when the trailer for Crazy Rich Asians was shown in cinemas, I knew this was something I would be interested to watch as it’s a typical rom-com… but with Asian characters.

Crazy Rich Asians is a film adaptation of the novel written by Kevin Kwan, directed by Jon Chu, who also directed G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Now You See Me 2. The film is centred around Rachel Chu who goes to Singapore to meet Nicholas Young’s family who are extremely wealthy and well-known in the country. From there, Rachel needs to try to impress his mother who thinks she isn’t worthy of being part of the family, as well as trying to understand or get used to Nicholas’ celebrity status.

As an Asian myself, I found this film very relatable in some degree as well as entertaining. I rarely see films and shows made in Hollywood that depict the Asian lifestyle in an accurate way as most of the time, the Asian characters are usually the sidekick or martial arts experts. The story and how the film is put together was able to depict an accurate picture of the contrast between two Asian lifestyles – the immigrant and the social elite.

Aside from the story, the use of both English and Cantonese in the dialogue makes the characters and the story more authentic. An example is when the grandmother is the only character that only speaks Cantonese, no English. Meanwhile, we see Rachel attempting to speak the language despite her being born and raised in America.

Some say that having a whole group of characters who are filthy rich and snobby makes the film unrelatable, but it’s the fantasy of being extremely rich in an Asian country that also appeals to audiences.

Also, according to Junkee, having such extremely rich characters helps fulfil the fantasy of “being white”, especially for those who were born and raised in a third world country.

Following Rachel’s journey through this trip, audiences are able to relate to her more since they know what it’s like to be questioned by Asians who have been fully immersed in Asian cultures, in contrast to the first world lifestyle they’ve been raised in.

I asked a few of my classmates who are from an Asian descent if they’ve watched it or why they want to watch it and the common answer that I’ve received is that they want to support Asian characters and the community.

Alice Dong, a third-year communications student, said “It’s films like this that motivates aspiring Asian filmmakers to get more involved in the film industry, proving if films like this make big in the box office, there is a chance for more Asian representation on the big screen.”

Crazy Rich Asians may not be the first film to show authentic Asian representation but the story and characters in the film depict an accurate picture of the contrasting lifestyles of the different Asian lifestyles.  A good teen/young adult film and well worth watching. Currently showing in cinemas across Sydney.


Author: Erielle Sudario


Film review – Cargo

Cargo is an Australian zombie drama which adapts a 2013 Tropfest finalist short, both of which were directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, and wri...

Cargo is an Australian zombie drama which adapts a 2013 Tropfest finalist short, both of which were directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, and written by Ramke. The post-apocalyptic tale is set in rural Australia, as we follow Andy, played by the very British Martin Freeman. Freeman, whose Australian accent disappears and reappears scene to scene, is husband to Kay (Susie Porter).

The couple’s baby daughter, Rosie, becomes the sole purpose of survival for Andy, when his wife becomes stricken with the zombie-fying disease that turns her face into an oozing honeypot.

The feature debut from Howling and Ramke is a visually striking display of powerful imagery, encompassing the vastness of Australia’s outback while creating shockingly-disturbing zombie designs.

The stumbling block for the film, however, is in its inherent creation. Orginally, Cargo was a finalist in the Tropfest 2013 film festival. Adapting a short film into a feature isn’t impossible, in fact Whiplash and Australian horror film, The Babadook, proves the ability for those films to become successful.

However, in Cargo’s case, the seven minutes of the short film seem to be stretched and padded to fill its 105 minute running length. Its attempts in developing a greater array of characters weakens the driving narrative of Andy’s solitude, and his need to find someone to take care of his child before he turns into a zombie.

The film’s saving graces come from the performance of Martin Freeman, whose warmth and humour is engaging for the entire film, and the parallels drawn between the zombie apocalypse and the treatment of Aboriginals by European settlers. This strong and compelling concept is explored well in the middle section of the film.

Cargo is a different kind of zombie film. It comes with great emotional depth and powerful visual imagery. But Martin Freeman’s performance, while captivating, cannot stop the film from becoming an only half-watchable picture. The film’s padding and lack of coherent narrative drive is a shame as Cargo holds the weight of a great short film but fails to deliver the goods in feature.

Cargo is currently showing in cinemas around Sydney until the end of this month. As it is Netflix production, expect to see it there before too long.

Author: Alan Fang