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‘Freedom on Fire’ Film Review: Ukrainian Documentary Faces Horror, Finds Humanity

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A few minutes before the North American premiere of “Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” director Evgeny Afineesvky summed up his state of mind in a single word: “exhausted.”That makes sense, because “Freedom on Fire” screened at the Toronto International Film Festival about six months after Afineevsky and his team began working on it, barely more than a month after its final footage was filmed and only a few weeks after Helen Mirren recorded narration for a scene that comes early in the documentary.For Afineevsky, who landed Oscar and Emmy nominations for 2015’s “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” this sequel of sorts was made in a six-month rush, including just three months of editing after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February of this year. “The urgency of the movie,” the Russian-born director told the audience before the Tuesday morning TIFF screening, “is to not neglect the situation right now.”Certainly, urgency is a hallmark of “Freedom on Fire,” a harrowing document shot by dozens of people inside Ukrainian cities as the Russian army conducted a bombing campaign and an invasion that seemingly targeted civilians, despite Vladimir Putin’s claims that Russia was there to “demilitarize” and “denazify” the country, and to somehow “free” it – though as more than one person in the film points out, the Russian offensive has resulted in ordinary citizens being freed from their lives, their homes, their families.The director’s first film about Ukraine, “Winter on Fire,” was an on-the-ground look at the 2013-2014 Maidan uprising, in which student protests against the Russian-backed president drew a brutal response but resulted in the removal of the president.

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