Winner of the Open City Award for 2018 at the Open City Documentary Festival, FLIGHT OF A BULLET is a bravely unconventional documentary in both its style and subject matter. Camerawoman and director Beata Bubenec creates a spontaneous snapshot of the Aider Battalion and its operations in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine in 2014; which forms a thought-provoking yet unexciting portrayal of wartime conflict.
FLIGHT OF A BULLET is shot in continuous, real-time sequence and is left virtually unedited. The effect is unlike many conventional documentaries and this format can be challenging to watch. Dropped into the action with no context, the audience must navigate the terrain and work out where allegiances lie. For a while it’s unclear what part Bubenec plays in the dispute; but when the cameras follow a gun-wielding, camouflaged soldier into the front seat of a car, the intended subjects of the documentary become clear. The opening of the film is unsettling, including the relatively low-tech equipment used or the hand-held, home-movie-ish nature of the filming.
The style of the documentary eventually settles, with the unconventional nature of it always keeping you guessing. There is no dramatic arc, common in planned and edited documentaries, rather the story unfurls of its own accord, the suspense rises slowly and the climax, when it comes, is trivial and over within the first twenty minutes of the film.
“Its raw and real but not in the manner war documentaries typically are.”
It’s curious why Bubenec chose this section of footage to present as a finished documentary. Its raw and real but not in the manner war documentaries typically are. Rather than focusing on the action of war it centres around the mis-action. The aftermath. The waiting in the wings. The film largely consists of soldiers doing exactly that: waiting. They draw tactical diagrams on a blackboard. One man has a long conversation on the phone with his apparently unfaithful girlfriend. They try to make a sandwich. The film presents these young male soldiers as subject matter as they joke around with Bubenec and negotiate power in a time of war.
Bubenec herself stays initially quiet behind the camera. However, as the film develops she becomes a more active presence in the narrative. The relationship between camerawoman and audience changes as we catch glimpses of Bubenec in front of the camera and hear her chat with the soldiers in the camp.
FLIGHT OF A BULLET is an interesting title choice since no bullet is ever actually fired in the film (save perhaps one warning shot near the beginning). I assume the title refers to the ‘flight of a bullet’ which missed its target, much like the ‘action’ of the film which ends up being anticlimactic. Indeed, the film ends just when the dramatic arc is again on the rise as the soldiers prepare to leave the base. By cutting short of the action Bubenec chooses to highlight the ordinary, mundane sections of war within this documentary. The flight of a bullet that, this time, created only a ripple of disturbance.