“Iron Butterflies”

Documentarian Roman Liubyi has created a bold, daring, and stunning piece of work with his “Iron Butterflies,” a meticulously researched film that presents damning avoidance of Russia’s probable war crimes and involvement in the downing of flight MH17 in the summer of 2014 over Ukraine. It’s a skillfully directed documentary with compelling storytelling that’s both topically and visually interesting.

When Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by Russian forces, all 298 people onboard were killed. During a multi-country investigation, a fragment of bitterly-shaped shrapnel was found in the pilot’s dead body. This discovery implicated Russia in a serious crime that to this day remains unpunished. Even after mountains of evidence have piled up, the country has continued to lie and deny in what can only be described as a break from reality — and humanity.

Liubyi assembles a lot of material into a very tight, succinct documentary. His storytelling is superb, tackling an extremely tough and emotionally arduous topic with sensitivity while still presenting straight facts. His film is very visual, a welcome change from those with dry voiceover narration. Liubyi includes actual news footage, text from the accident report, recordings filmed by citizens, social media posts, witness accounts, and video clips from Russian state-sponsored media to back up his analysis. The most chilling part of the film includes a map tracking the flight’s path which, as simple as it is, is an absolute distressing thing to watch. 

Liubyi uses reenactments effectively, but they are only done as black and white interludes that sometimes feel out of place. They’re interesting in terms of storytelling, but the bits are unnecessarily artsy and do slow the film down a bit. Another piece is a sequence animated from a child’s drawings, which incorporates elements of modern dance. These dramatic choices don’t always work, but they’re the work of a gutsy director.  

By: Louisa Moore

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