This documentary presents a personal and intimate portrayal of the rise of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s second President, which offers an insight into the early political workings of the reluctant leader who has evolved into the autocratic despot that we know today.
At the same time the world was celebrating the new millennium on New Year’s Eve 1999, a comparatively young Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia, ushering in what has turned out to be one of the most widely criticised presidencies in the modern world.
Director Vitaly Mansky, counts himself as one of Putin’s early supporters while he was head of documentary for Russian state television, and was tasked with creating an observational film meant to underpin Putin’s first bid for election. This resulted in Mansky having close personal access to the new leader, as well as Boris Yeltsin, who put Putin in his place of power. With this uninhibited access to someone who is now shrouded in mystery and political secrecy, the director uses his footage to explore Putin’s rise to power and strategies he employed to manipulate the situation to his advantage. We also witness his yearning for the power of the Soviet state and the international prestige that came with it.
Mansky uses a mix of different visual platforms to explore his subject including old TV tapes, news reports and hand-held camera footage he shot himself. This provides documentary authenticity, a social and political context and a certain level of personal intimacy (of Mansky’s own family) that draws Putin into un-scripted conversations and opinions. It’s unusual to see Putin appearing slightly more at ease and relaxed than what’s shown in current media, but his controlled expressions and robotic movements are still present and are most likely a legacy of his time in the KGB.
The documentary also spends time focussing on retired President, Boris Yeltsin in the year following his decision to step down. Yeltsin was the architect of Putin’s rise to power, but he is soon shown to be disappointed with the direction of the new President’s political agenda. Yeltsin’s apparent popularity with the Russian people may well encourage the audience to explore his time in power and the possibility that it may have taken the Russian people on a much different path.
Although this may be a film more enjoyable for those with an enthusiasm for contemporary Russian history and politics, there is still enough there to hold the attention of the everyday person with a general interest in the world around them.
Putin’s Witnesses screens again on October 19th as part of the Adelaide Film Festival, which runs until October 21st.
Click here for the full program.