Prigozhin’s plane isn’t the first to fall from Russian skies

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Iron Butterflies
Scotiabank Theatre
2.5 out of 5

Ever seen Mayday? The slightly creepy Discovery series about plane crashes packed with data and cheesy re-enactments? For better or for worse, Iron Butterflies is nothing like that.

I almost wish it had been.

Iron Butterflies, a rare documentary at the multiplex, zeroes in on the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that killed all 298 passengers. The film is absurdly timely, too, thanks to another plane — Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s — going down in Russia in (not-so) suspicious circumstances.

Because I strongly believe docs have a place on the big screen, it brings me no joy to tell you this one isn’t great.

Iron Butterflies tries to prove that Russian forces shot the plane down by mistake (the event happened during the occupation of Crimea in Ukrainian aerospace). The film takes about half an hour to make its case: the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air Buk missile, a singularly popular weapon in the Russian arsenal. The Buk is known for leaving shrapnel in the shape of butterflies. Also, against these missiles a plane is as delicate and vulnerable as a butterfly. Metaphors!

Even though the evidence is damning (so much so that a trial in absentia in the Netherlands found two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist guilty), Putin’s government denies any involvement. The film’s most interesting idea is linking the Kremlin getting away with murder to the current invasion eight years later.

Regardless of Iron Butterflies’ nobility of purpose, the film has several problems — starting with lyrical interstitials peppered throughout the movie  that fall short of humanizing the proceedings and instead come across as filler.

There are also structural problems: Iron Butterflies’ approach is haphazard and stitched together via archival footage. The documentary’s “mystery” is solved early and we’re left with a lot of Russian media lying through their teeth to cover up Kremlin involvement. By the third time we get the same lying Russian anchor, one begins to wonder if the filmmakers had enough material for a feature in the first place (the movie is a measly 84 minutes long).

Love to see docs in Saskatchewan cinemas but this ain’t it, Jack.