Sundance 2023: Iron Butterflies, Is There Anybody Out There? | Festivals & Awards

Liubyi sometimes directs the film with a bleakly funny dryness, showing things as they are using social media, and at one point, including old Russian propaganda videos that make the missiles that shot down MH17 seem quaint. Photos of smiling soldiers posing with the wreckage are scrolled through with a matter-of-fact nature. It can be a cold approach built from rampant information, but that feeling is countered by Liubyi’s evident and deep compassion for those who died in this tragedy. The movie is dedicated to them and the victims of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. 

The rage within Liubyi’s direction also extends to his version of a reenactment—interpretive dance scenes in black and white, fever dreams meant to be taken literally. But they are perhaps too on-the-nose at some points, like when soldiers with blurred-out faces are covering the mouths of, and dancing with, the citizens who lived near the wreck. There are other artistic flights of fancy, like a later sequence that dreams about the four pigeons that were on the flight log, rendered with animation inspired by child-like drawings. One of the most haunting elements is its soundscape, which pays tribute to lost lives through the jagged sounds made from a deconstructed piano. 

“Iron Butterflies” is art raging against injustice, though it is aware of how much the information age can also magnify overpowering, false narratives or help sweep a flight like MH17 under the proverbial rug. Liubyi passionately assembles the pieces to this testimony of a broken system, using a cinematic cynicism that is often moving in a way optimism is not. 

Also premiering in the World Cinema Documentary competition, “Is There Anybody Out There?” is the years-long search by burgeoning filmmaker Ella Glendining to find more people, or at least one person, like her. She was born without hip joints and has very small thigh bones; her mother’s doctors had never seen anything like it. There’s little information available about her condition, but she begins looking Facebook for anybody with something similar, especially those who have received surgery to adjust their mobility. Glendining captures this adventure of searching in this heartfelt documentary, with powerful other life stories included to offset a generic presentation. 

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