IRON BUTTERFLIES | The Impact Series | August 25, 2023
Starring: Anastasiia Anykevych, Bridget Fiske, Sofiya Gakh
Directed By: Roman Liubyi
In the summer of 2014, sunflower fields and coal mines in eastern Ukraine turn into a 12-square-kilometre crime scene. Directed by Roman Liubyi, Iron Butterflies documents the multi-layered investigation into the downing of flight MH17 and the butterfly-shaped shrapnel found in the pilot’s body that implicated the state responsible for a war crime that remains unpunished to this day.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Iron Butterflies highlights the tragic and reprehensible downing of Flight MH17 over Ukrainian airspace back in 2014, but creative choices in which the story is told on screen makes this documentary very inaccessible for those not intimately versed in the facts of the events themself.
What is currently happening in the Ukraine is sickening and utterly heartbreaking. The death and destruction caused by Russia is unacceptable and disgusting, and while it has been at the forefront of the world news cycle for roughly the past year and a half, it has been going on much longer than that. This documentary shines the light on the attack and downing of Flight MH17 over Ukrainian airspace in 2014, showing a much longer conflict between the two countries that has been going on for years, while showing the consequences of not truly addressing this travesty years ago.
Writing this review was not easy, as the subject matter tackled in the documentary is important and timely. There needs to be accountability for what is happening, and documentaries need to be addressing this. So from that state of mind, I applaud this documentary for highlighting these events even though it may make the filmmakers targets in the eyes of Russia. However, film is art and decisions can be made by the filmmakers that will either connect with audiences or leave them confused as to what they just watched. And sadly, that is what Iron Butterflies did to me, leaving me struggling to follow and appreciate this documentary.
The documentary is told through a series of news clips, real life footage, Google map imaging, acted out vignettes, and historical instructional videos for warheads. There is no narration, no interviews with experts on the subject matter, nor any guiding narrative over the course of the documentary. It leaves audience members who are not well versed in the actual incident itself confused as to the timeline of where we are in the story, the players involved and making the documentary feel disjointed. Yes, the graphic and shocking footage of the crash and wreckage itself evokes the horror within the audience that it needs to, but the film loses the message. The vignettes feel out of place, and some of them are confusing as to what the message they are trying to convey is, while the non-linear narrative of the documentary confuses the audience as to where we are in the course of the events. It’s an ambitious way for director Roman Liubyi to tell this recent piece of history that the world needs to be reminded of, but it is not going to work for all viewers. There are some good moments where it shows the Russian propaganda newsreels compared to what actually happened, showcasing the lies and spin jobs to hide the truth, but this is not enough to make up for the disjointed storytelling of the events of the downing of Flight MH17.
Documentaries are important for reminding audiences of real life events, even more so when they are covering subject matter that is relevant and timely for the conflict occurring in the world today. The brave Ukranian filmmakers are shining a spotlight on their country’s past conflict with Russia that has only built towards the war they find themselves in today, Iron Butterflies sadly struggles to convey its messaging with narration or interviews to inform the audience on the implications of the downing of Flight MH17 and what led to this commercial, civilian flight from being shot out of the sky despite harrowing real life footage of what transpired.