If you think politics is rough in America, consider the case of Alexey Navalny, the opposition leader in Russia who was poisoned in August 2020 by a military-grade nerve agent. It’s something of a wonder that he’s alive today—becoming ill while on an airplane, he was hospitalized in serious condition in Russia, put into a medical coma, and evacuated to a hospital in Germany for further treatment and recovery.
The specific nerve agent used (Novichok, which is manufactured in a single location in Russia) is an odd choice of an assassination weapon since it has a distinctive chemical signature, but there’s not much doubt as this drug was confirmed by five labs certified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Navalny (and a lot of other people) believe Vladimir Putin of being behind the poisoning, and while Putin claims he had nothing to do with any of this, the wild counterclaims made on Russian TV soon after Navalny’s hospitalization to explain Navalny’s condition suggest otherwise.* Clips from some of the “news shows” included in this film show straight-faced newsreaders claiming that the real explanation is that Navalny was on a bender, “like all liberals” was taking an anti-depressant banned in Russia, was using cocaine, and/or hallucinogens were the root cause of it all.
Daniel Roher’s documentary Navalny is truly a film for our times. It’s a great way to get yourself up to speed on this case if you weren’t paying attention in 2020, as it provides a nice summary of the events of Navalny’s ordeal and world reaction to it. It also provides the chance to meet two of the individuals involved in the investigation into his poisoning—Christo Grozev of Bellingcat and Maria Pevchikh of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation—takes you behind the scenes as they work, and shows you how they built their case.
What these investigations uncover is more elaborate than you can imagine, and the process by which they got some of the information offers an astounding illustration of how easily stupidity and brutality can coexist. Bonus: it’s all illustrated with a corkboard display, reminiscent of a police procedural, complete with colored yarn connecting various locations and individuals to their roles in the plot.
Navalny won two awards at Sundance (the Audience Award and the Festival Favorite Award) and has been nominated for prizes at a number of other festivals. | Sarah Boslaugh
*The ready and preposterous accusations of illegal drug use against a well-known public figure give me pause with regard to another high-profile individual being detained in Russia: Britney Griner, one of the best basketball players in the world, who is currently detained in Russia under charges of possessing of hashish oil.
Navalny is available for home viewing in the United States as part of the 25th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, which runs from 12 pm ET on April 7, 2022, through 11:59 pm ET on April 10, 2022. There’s also a Q & A with director Jessica Edwards available on the festival web site. Further information about Full Frame 2022 is available through the festival web site. Due to the timely nature of this film, Navalny will also be screened in cities in about 800 American cities, including St. Louis, on April 11 and 12; further information is available from the Fathom Events web site.