Orange Winter reimagines the extremely contentious Ukraine election of 2004 as an opera, similar to Jessica Yu's latest the Protagonist. Director Andrei Zagdansky intercuts ground-eye footage of the protests, tent city, riots and lengthy court battle with two classical operas: “Godunov” and “La Traviata”. With reform candidate Viktor Yushchenko being poisoned and suffering horrible facial disfigurement and the protest tent cities that inhabited the public squares of Kiev made this historical event extremely photogenic and has led to many documentaries about the "orange revolution" (orange being symbolic of non-violent protest in Ukraine). This crowding of the subject matter makes Zagdansky's approach very refreshing, opera practically being a second religion in the Ukraine it's a fantastic entree to a national culture that rings very sincere and makes opera far less boring and foreign than it normally seems to an American audience.
There also breathtaking moments of democracy's growing pains such as when a television interpreter for the deaf defies station policy of supporting the establishment candidate and signs during a live broadcast, "the media is lying to you, I suspect I will disappear after tonight. Don't trust them." The film also does a fine job of encapsulating some of the cultural divide between Communist stalwart Russian-speakers and the more urban, younger Ukrainian-speaking people.
At the halfway point Zagdansky stops using the opera device and the film loses a bit of momentum but this is a touching and earnest account of what it was like to live through this turning point in Ukraine history.
See also our coverage of Orange Revolution from the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Cowboys and Communists is a snapshot of contemporary Berlin and the culture clash of the old Communist stalwarts and the cultural refugees that the new "life is a cabaret" Berlin has attracted since the wall was brought down. Specifically in one neighborhood where the tenants of a residential/commercial building have begun protesting mightily their new street-level neighbors, a bar called White Trash that prizes itself on being a rowdy internationally known tourist night spot.
Director Jessica Feast (a visitor from New Zealand) worked as a waitress as White Trash but felt a great deal of sympathy for resident Horst Woitalla (what a name!) who had been a member of the Communist party since age 16 and worked for the state department television department rendering him virtually unemployable after the wall fell.
Feast also demonstrates that the misfit Berlin interlopers while sort of annoying with their cause of quasi-liberation and palpable need for conflict and attention, have built a thriving enterprise in a neighborhood where business owners had split in the middle of the night due to dire economics straits.
Cowboys and Communists demonstrates exactly what a short documentary can accomplish that a feature-length cannot, its agility creates an intimate portrait of these people and their situation that would have become bloated and hollow with a longer runtime.
Read more about the film at Lumiere.