Monday, November 08, 2021

DOC NYC ’21: We Are Russia

You would expect it would make American headline news if an opposition party in a large influential country arrived at their headquarters one morning to find the doors locked, the door knobs removed, and iron bars freshly installed over their windows. To make matters worse, one of their volunteers was locked inside with the people who had performed this surprise renovation. This is exactly what happened in Moscow, but our media is only interested in Putin in connection with conspiracy theories regarding Trump collusion. By the way, the kicker was the only person to face prosecution after this abuse of power was the innocent campaign worker trapped inside. He was a friend of the youthful activists documentarian Alexandra Dalsbaek followed when they took Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign to the streets in We Are Russia, which screens during this year’s DOC NYC.

There are no talking heads in
WAR and no dry backgrounders. If you don’t know who Putin is by now and how profoundly undemocratic his imperial presidency has been, I think you’re an idiot and Dalsbaek probably does too. Regardless, if you don’t get it by now, you will after watching these kids’ experiences (one of the Navalny volunteers is only sixteen).

When we first see Milena and her friends protesting, their efforts look almost negligible by American standards. One of them merely stands in front of government building holding a sign not much larger than a sheet of notebook paper, while the other two film and post on social media. Yet, time and time again, they get hassled and often even arrested by the cops.

In fact, Dalsbaek’s film makes it clear Putin’s Russia is, by any standard or definition, a true police state. It is impossible to effectively campaign for legit opposition candidates and those who try and inevitably arrested and prosecuted. It is hard to imagine the deafening outrage if western democracies kept their accused in cages during trial, but it is standard practice in Russia.

First and foremost, these activists deserve all kinds of credit for the guts and commitment they display. Fearless Milena even tries to hold her sign in front of FSB headquarters, prompting a police response in seconds (literally). They are risking their [relative] liberty and perhaps even their lives for a better government and a brighter future.

Admittedly, Navalny—who just won the EU’s Sakharov Prize for political conscience—might not be absolutely perfect, but he certainly represents a vast improvement over the current guy. He also walks the walk, having survived a poisoning attempt and multiple arrests. (The film ends with his January 2021 return to Russia—and his immediate arrest upon landing). We can see why he scares Putin, because the only visuals Dalsbaek shows besides her handheld, boots-on-the-street protest footage are his persuasive and motivating YouTube videos.

It is also clear Dalsbaek put herself in harm’s way, just like her subjects, to get the story. This is immediately grabbing, viscerally intense stuff—all the more so, because the young activists are so likable. Like Hong Kong, Russia is imprisoning its future. Very highly recommended,
We Are Russia screens 11/11 and 11/12 in-person and 11/12/11/28 online, as part of DOC NYC 2021.