‘Navalny’ follows poison trail at Sun Valley Film Festival
STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK
Daniel Roher could not have foreseen how his film about Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny would take on a larger than life personality, with Russian troops slaughtering Ukrainian civilians as the film was due to premiere.
The film has become a staple, serving as a vivid example of the importance of movies.
Roher, a Canadian documentary filmmaker, presented his film to a packed house at The Argyros on Sunday evening at the end of the Sun Valley Film Festival. Sun Valley audiences, he said, were only the third audience in the world to see the film, which premiered two months earlier at a virtual Sundance film festival.
Even as he answered questions from the audience, Roher said he was desperate for a way for Russians to see the film.
“I have a few ideas,” he said.
The Sun Valley Film Festival presentation was preceded by a concert of Ukrainian music performed by local members of the Sun Valley Music Festival and the Wood River Orchestra. The crowd rose as RL Rowsey sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
Roher accepted the audience’s applause with mixed emotions, “knowing that I am enjoying this extraordinary moment as the subject of the film finds itself in a Russian gulag”.
“What is important to remember is that Vladimir Putin is not Russia, and Russia is not Vladimir Putin,” he added.
The 98-minute documentary is as gripping a thriller as you’ll ever see, but it’s about real life with real consequences.
The film shows the events surrounding the poisoning of Navalny, a 45-year-old lawyer who led crowds in chants of “Putin!” Thief” as he ran for office to fight authoritarian corruption. It shows his wife’s frustrated efforts to get him out of the Russian hospital where he was treated for his poisoning.
And it includes flying images on the wall of the moment of Gotcha de Navalny and his colleagues as a candidate The assassin admits a three-year plot to kill Navalny and offers that his team would have killed Navalny if the plane he was in had not made an emergency landing allowing him to be processed quickly for the agent deadly neurotoxic.
While serious stuff, the film contains some lighter moments, including the hilarity that evolved during the would-be killers’ attempt to clean up evidence left behind in Navalny’s blue underwear. And it exposes Navalny’s love for his country and his wife Yulia and their two children.
“They make an amazing couple,” Roher said.
The film followed Navalny until his arrest in January 2021 during his defiant return to Russia from Germany.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” Navalny told the camera, noting that people don’t realize how much power they actually wield.
“It’s a profound, insightful and amazing portrait of a man who sacrifices everything for what he believes in,” said Ketchum resident Sandra Flattery, who was among the viewers. “His passion for fighting corruption in Russia is truly inspiring despite the personal cost to him and his family. I pray that he survives.
Roher said he was pursuing another film project in Vienna which stalled when the opportunity to follow Navalny fell upon him. He began sneaking across the Austrian-German border under the radar, even driving eight hours straight on two hours of sleep on one occasion to travel to Berlin to film Navalny watching Putin’s press conference. after the revelation of the assassination plot.
Roher noted that Navalny is a master at rallying support through Tik Tok and other forms of social media.
“There’s something about being in Navalny’s presence – he has a disarming smile, capable of making you feel like you’re the only person in the room,” he said.
Roher wrote down a plan where he was to interview Navalny, aware that Navalny could soon be sentenced to prison for the rest of his life or even killed.
“The possibility and likelihood of this being his last interview worried me, and we didn’t know what would happen,” he said.
Since the Sundance premiere, Russian media have gone to great lengths to discredit the film, accusing Roher of being a CIA agent and even a pornographer. Both charges are false, Roher said.
“Putin knows our film. He was told about it and was not happy,” he added.
Just before Sundance, CNN Films and HBO Max announced that they were teaming up on the film with CNN to air the film in North America with HBO Max and CNN+ holding the broadcast rights.
In light of what is happening around the world, Warner Brothers has acquired the broadcast rights and plans to release the film in over 800 theaters on April 11-12. And while much of the film takes place in a small venue with Navalny and his associates, the film more than justifies the big-screen treatment.
Roher added that it is important for the world to keep Navalny’s memory alive to prevent the Russians from killing him.
“Spread the word about the film. Tell your friends. Tell everyone. Alex’s life is in danger. The more he is talked about, the harder it will be to assassinate him,” he said.
“Alex represents the beautiful Russia of the future,” added Roher. “It looks bleak right now, but change can happen.”