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Why Maidan matters?

In Turkish the word maidan, written meydan, literally means square, an open area, a place for competition, funfair or face off, a special place in Sufi shrines where the dervishes whirl, or opportunity. It originates from Arabic, and is commonly used in everyday life. Taksim, where Gezi Park protests took place for example, is another maidan, much like the Indepence Square in central Kiev.

And Sergei Loznitsa’s 2014 documentary of the same name matters, greatly. It is pertinent. It is a reminder. An unrelenting gaze into the events that unfolded within that closed off space between November 2013, and February 2014 – events which spread beyond the barricades to engulf the whole country and its people who suddenly found themselves seeking refuge in IDP camps instead of holding European passports.

Loznitsa’s documentary is in the literal sense of the word exactly that, a visual document. Maidan, in its straight forward / no-frills style is an eye-witness. It doesn’t bring us the best photography from the Maidan, nor is ever in the heart of the action. You hear the stage but you hardly see it. As the watcher, at times you become part of the hundreds in the Maidan, shoveling charred up remains of bone-fires, cutting bread in the communal kitchen, or standing idly along as people move past. In others you are stuck with whatever the glass lens chooses to show you. If it be a passerby blocking the lens, or people stopping in close range to pose and take pictures or each other, you have no choice but to wait for them to get on and get out of the shot. But even at those times, the sound of the Maidan is continuous.

The documentary takes its strength from fixed angle long shots, the camera hardly moves, hardly pans or zooms. Much like the eye, the film rolls in a steady gaze. As you watch the documentary, images from the Maidan which those of us who followed the news from those days closely remember; of the demonstrators among the tear gas holding ground, or the priests holding onto each other as they stand against the riot police with smoke rising behind them, they come back and haunt us. Yet they are nowhere in the documentary. We see something else. We see is the background. We see the middle aged housewife with her leather purse hanging from her arm as she holds from one end of a sack into which a group of young men shovel dirt. We see a man lift his glasses and wipe the tears from his eyes as caskets bearing the bodies of those killed by the police move through the crowd. We see an old woman holding up a picture on the front line, in front of the riot police and a medical volunteer try to talk her into moving back. We see all these details along with others in a large picture. The camera stands back. It is not interested in the blood and the gore. It is not interested in the tears. It is neutral, but the events that unfold in front of our eyes make us take sides. And we do, as we stare into those episodes of confusion, calm and detail, bringing to mind Hieronymus Bosch paintings.

Thus Sergei, in this debut film hits the subject home.

In an era where we are fed daily with pornographic violence, Maidan comes in like fresh air, relays its message, and leaves a permanent mark in our memory.

P.S. Maidan will be screened as part of Istanbul’s annual Independent Film Festival. So if you are around, do not miss it.

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