Issue 55 (2017)

Kirill Nenashev: Putin Forever? (Russia, 2015)

reviewed by Rachel Stauffer© 2017

putin forveverPutin Forever? is a documentary film about protests held in Moscow from December 2011 until May 2012. Emphasizing the bolotnaya protests (so named because of their location on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow’s center), the film follows one of the young leaders of the Moscow Solidarnost’ movement, Vsevolod “Seva” Chernozub while documenting the group’s planning and implementing of non-violent protests against corrupt elections and the election of Putin to a third term as President of the Russian Federation, among other issues. The film also documents the “White Ring” protest (modeled after a similar two million- strong protest held in the Baltic republics during perestroika) on 26 February 2012, in which more than 30,000 peaceful protesters dressed in white formed a nine-mile circle around Moscow’s Garden Ring. The film opens, however, with more recent footage. The first words of the film, “Don’t’ shoot your brothers” (which brings to mind Battleship Potemkin) are chanted at the September 2014 Moscow peace rally for Ukraine, it then cuts to footage from several more recent protests such as the 21 February 2015 Anti-Maidan march, the 1 March 2015 memorial march for Boris Nemtsov, and the 18 March 2015 celebration of the annexation of Crimea, demonstrating the film’s interspersing of anti-Putin and pro-Putin activism throughout. The film’s juxtaopposes Seva and the Solidarnost’ movement with Vitaly Morozov, an eccentric neo-nationalist, neo-traditional Orthodox pro-Putinist who views the actions of the anti-Putin protesters, and especially the bolotnye protesters, as only creating more problems, rather than resolving existing ones. The differences of opinion and action between Seva and Vitaly is a consistent thread throughout the documentary, offering an interesting portrait of two Russian men divided by political and generational differences. There is a rather awkward and seemingly forced interaction in which Seva and Vitalii are filmed having a conversation, which does not add much to the overarching goal of the film, that, according to director Kirill Nenashev, is to provide a record of the protests (Muskevich 2016a). As a larger symbol of the divisions between the anti-Putin and pro-Putin groups portrayed, and even the Putin administration itself, perhaps the opposition between Seva and Vitalii makes a stronger statement.

putin foreverThe makers of this documentary captured many extraordinary moments in conjunction with the protests. For example, at a February 2012 meeting of members of Solidarnost’, the group’s leader, Boris Nemtsov, sits side-by-side with Seva, exchanging ideas about non-violent protest strategies, making the point that that he is an older person who probably won’t camp out in a tent like the young people are considering doing, and also wisely advising them that one spring will not be enough to make their demands a reality. Nemtsov compares the time of filming to 1988 or late 1987, saying the Arab Spring happened in one spring, but in Russia, it’s colder, it takes longer, so there is still some time before it will be like August 1991. The filmmakers also captured a short interview with the husband of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova the day after she and other members of Pussy Riot had been arrested for their performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. There are snippets of speeches by Tatiana Lazareva, Alexei Navalny, and Sergey Udal’tsov as well as interactions with representatives of pro-Kremlin groups (e.g. Nashi). The filmmakers captured a rally at Luzhniki Stadium from Putin’s 2012 presidential campaign, showing signs from participants that read “Putin is stronger than Chuck Norris” and “Putin Trilogy” (suggesting a successful election for a third term), including a moment in a speech given by Putin in which he suggests that just as at Borodino, the fight for Russia continues, and victory will be in ‘our’ (meaning United Russia’s, Putin’s, and their supporters’) favor.

putin foreverThe world premiere of the documentary was at the Montreal International Film Festival in August 2016, and received acclaim when it premiered in Europe at the Warsaw Film Festival in November 2016. In Warsaw, seats at all four screenings were filled. In Russia, the film has been screened in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan’, Vladimir, and Nizhnij-Novgorod under the title Dekabr’-Maj, rather than under the more subversive title, Putin Forever? The film’s director, Kirill Nenashev describes the film as a chronicle (letopis’) or a history textbook (uchebnik istorii) of events that he hopes in 50 to 100 years will be seen as just as important as the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. He is quick to stress that the film is not about the leaders of the country, but about the people. In this same interview he adds, “The value of it—and this is what many people have told me in Poland—is that because it is a chronicle, the film is important as a document. The foreign viewer sees people protesting passionately, but doesn’t fully understand what exactly it is that they are protesting about. Here in Russia we know and feel this perfectly, but the foreign viewer does not” (Muskevich 2016b). While this may be true for the viewer unacquainted with Russia, perhaps those of us with greater knowledge in this area will have a more meaningful experience viewing the film than the ordinary foreign spectator might. 

putin foreverThe film ends with a list of the fates of individuals portrayed in the film, the bulk of which ended up leaving Russia or receiving jail sentences. While Vitalii Morozov remains in Moscow, Seva moved to Europe, along with several others from the Solidarnost’ movement, and of course we know the tragic fate of Nemtsov. All in all, Putin Forever? provides a unique and multilayered account of the Bolotnaya protests and the general spirit of discontent surrounding the 2011 and 2012 elections. It is not without bias, but Putin Forever? certainly offers a wealth of footage on civil actions by the people and administrative reactions from the Kremlin.

Rachel Stauffer
Ferrum College

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Works Cited

Muskevich, Mariia. 2016a. “Putin Forever?”. Interview with Kirill Nenashev at the Warsaw Film Festival. Polskie Radio. 25 October .

Muskevich, Mariia. 2016b. “Ot svobody do nesvobody – odin šag.” Interv’Iu s Kirillom Nenashevym., Jazyk i literatura 8 November.

Putin Forever?, Russia, 2015 [Documentary]
Color, 93 minutes
Director: Kirill Nenashev
Screenplay: Kirill Nenashev
Cinematography: Kirill Nenashev, Evgenii Iakovlev, Mariia Muskevich
Editors: Kirill Nenashev, Evgenii Iakovlev, Mariia Muskevich, Konstantin Davydkin
Producer: Mariia Muskevich
Production: Independent

Kirill Nenashev: Putin Forever? (Russia, 2015)

reviewed by Rachel Stauffer© 2017