Source: Ben Dalton

Navalny director Daniel Roher and his partners on the Oscar- and Bafta-winning 2022 documentary have reacted to the news that Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, is reported to have died in a Russian prison camp aged 47.

Speaking to Screendaily on Friday night Roher said: “From a political perspective Navalny was steadfast in his commitment to democracy, fighting corruption, and ushering in what he called the Russia of the future. That was his dream and everything he did was focused on achieving those objectives.”

He added, “From a personal standpoint he was someone who had an extremely moral clarity. He lived by his conscience, put his money where his mouth was, and understood the value of humour in the face of adversity and darkness. That resonated with me. I appreciated how he was able to weaponise humour for his political goals.”

The filmmaker said he last spoke to the Russian anti-corruption campaigner and longtime critic of Vladimir Putin on January 17, 2021, the day Navalny returned to Moscow after treatment and convalescence in Berlin for a suspected poisoning by the FSB Russian security service.

In one extraordinary sequence in the documentary, Navalny tricked a Russian agent over the phone into telling him how he was poisoned. However Navalny never saw the film.

“It was always a great dream of mine to go to Russia and show him the film,” said Roher, who continued: “It was always my dream that the film would help keep Navalny alive and keep his name in the global consciousness.

“It was particularly critical that we pushed for awards. I felt that we might have been able to connect his name’s longevity with his survival. Now the film is one for history.”

A special encore of the film will air on Saturday night in the US on CNN and CNNi.  

Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grosev, a key figure in the documentary who worked extensively with Navalny, tweeted simply, “Navalny was finally killed by Putin today.”

“We are deeply saddened by the reported loss of Alexei Navalny,” said Anna Godas, CEO of documentary specialists Dogwoof, which conducted sales on the film plus distribution in several territories. “His story was inspirational and we were deeply honoured to be part of the film, Navalny, which showed his incredible bravery and strength. Our thoughts are with Alexei’s family.”

”We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Alexei Navalny’s passing and would like to extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones,” said Niklas Engstrom, artistic director of Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, where the film had its international premiere in March 2022. ”Navalny was one of the bravest men around, a man fighting for the values of free speech, political diversity and freedom.

Navalny is more than just a film; it is a poignant reminder of the cost of political courage and the indomitable spirit of those who dare to challenge tyranny.”

Think-Film Impact Production, the consultancy, marketing and production firm that worked on the film, tweeted, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. So DON’T DO NOTHING!” - Alexey Navalny’s message to us all hits even harder today. Dedicated to fighting for justice and freedom, we will do what he told us.”, while sharing the trailer of the film. 

Berlin vigil

Meanwhile, a vigil was taking place in Berlin for Navalny on Friday evening.

Several hundred people gathered outside the Russian Embassy on Unter der Linden, just 200 yards from Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate.

Attendees of all ages laid flowers and candles for Navalny, who died in a prison inside the Arctic Circle according to Russian news agency Tass. Reports of his death had not been verified at time of writing. 

Numerous attendees at the vigil held signs calling Russian president Vladimir Putin a murderer; while the crowd chanted similar sentiments.

Speakers addressed the crowd in both German and Russian, with messages of sadness, anger and solidarity.

“I feel defenceless again,” said Maria, a young lady speaking in Russian. “I really appreciated his ability to make politics accessible, simple and understandable to everyone.

“It was easy. It was fun. It was interesting. He really knew how to get people involved. And I believe that is something we must preserve and carry forward – that politics is not something for incomprehensible people; that it is ours, that we can create influence with it.”

The vigil was not affiliated with the Berlin Film Festival although several attendees wore festival credentials.

Speeches took place beside a large Ukrainian flag already in place before Friday’s news as part of an ongoing protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Jeremy Kay contributed to this report.