Saturday, November 21, 2009

Russian Film Week ’09: The Black Spot

As a former Soviet client state, the Somali people have again looked to Russia for economic assistance rebuilding their troubled country. Unfortunately, there is no functional governing body to keep the peace and administer any aid that could be offered. Essentially, Somalia exists in a state of anarchy, which allows terrorism and piracy to flourish unchecked. Indeed, the two are closely related, as Vladimir Sinelnikov reveals in his documentary investigation The Black Spot, directed by Vadim Ostrovsky, which screened last night as part of the ninth annual Russian Film Week in New York.

The issue of Somali piracy is not merely academic for Russia. The Ukrainian owner Merchant Vessel Faina had a Russian captain and first officer when it was hijacked off the coast of Kenya. Ultimately, the crew was ransomed, but not before the reportedly stress-induced death of the captain, Vladimir Kolobkov.

Obviously, piracy, kidnapping, and in some cases murder, violate every conceivable concept of international law, imperiling merchant seamen around the world. However, Sinelnikov makes a compelling argument such piracy represents a graver global menace. He points to Somalia’s strategic location with respect to the Gulf of Aden and the international shipping routes for oil. Sinelnikov suggests it may well only be a matter of time before pirates try to choke off the world’s oil supply or threaten the region with an environmentally catastrophic oil spill.

Of course, the biggest question is where does the ransom money go? As Sinelnikov makes clear, the pirates themselves live desperately mean existences. Connecting the dots, he follows the money to shadowy representatives of Somalia’s tribal leaders and Islamist terrorist groups, including perhaps Al-Qaeda. In fact, Sinelnikov and his crew were very much in harm’s way while filming in Somalia, at one time witnessing a shootout between their security escorts and a contingent of bandit-terrorists. However, the film’s post-script about the hijacking of the MV Arctic Sea (presumably somewhere in the Baltic Sea) opens a host of additional speculations that somewhat cloud Spot’s overall contentions.

Though originally produced for Russian television, Sinelnikov is hardly optimistic about the film’s chances to actually airing there in its present form. That is unfortunate, because Spot is quite provocative, presenting some eye-opening information and making some genuinely frightening connections. While Spot has more of the look of an in-depth news magazine special than a feature film, it is a very interesting journalistic endeavor. It nicely compliments the dramatic features of this year’s Russian Film Week, which concludes Sunday with a full day of screenings, including Pete on His Way to Heaven and Gift to Stalin.