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Navalny 2022

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Good Docs
Produced by Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, and Shane Boris
Directed by Daniel Roher
Streaming, 98 mins

College - General Adult
Journalism; Russian Politics; Social Movements

Date Entered: 07/25/2023

Reviewed by Michael A. LaMagna, Associate Professor & Reference Librarian, Delaware County Community College, Media, PA

From the beginning, Academy Award winning film for best documentary feature film, Navalny, sets up a made-for-television story of a failed assassination attempt against prominent Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny. While it would be easy for a film like this to focus exclusively on the subject of the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin and the response to public criticism, this film goes beyond just tracing the history of a failed state-sponsored assassination attempt and digs into the way news of a failed secret poisoning with military-grade chemical nerve agent, Novichok, is reported across media channels.

In August 2020 while in Tomsk, Russia, Navalny was allegedly, secretly poisoned due to his outspoken opposition to Vladimir Putin. On a plane ride home, Navalny became ill requiring his flight to be diverted to a nearby airport for medical treatment. It turns out the diverted flight is what likely saved Navalny’s life. Once released for treatment in Germany, the film follows investigative reporter, Christo Grozev from Bellingcat as he traces the origin of this assassination plot and identifies all the relevant players as well as those who participated in the actual poisoning. This thread of modern investigative journalistic practices follows the facts, including paying for relevant information from sources within Russia, adding a fascinating angle to the story. The behind-the-scenes work to release an explosive news story like this will be of interest to audiences not familiar with the process. An especially important thread in this narrative is the corruption of some media outlets in reporting misinformation produced by the state. This aspect of the film is an increasingly important narrative in our current age of information distribution. One notable moment in the film is the memes that developed online when the story of the assassination plot breaks, including the follow-up of a recorded co-conspirator who outlines all its details.

With the many different threads to this story and the excellent way in which they are documented, it is easy for the final message from Navalny to be lost. This message is something that all viewers should note as it is applicable whether fighting corruption in Russia or anywhere in the world.

The film includes both Russian and English, with English subtitles that are easy to read and do not distract from the images on the screen. The film includes a mix of footage from media outlets to move the narrative along through the 98-minute run time.

With increased international attention on the mental and physical health of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s unprovoked war with Ukraine continues, Navalny, provides a glimpse into how Putin reacts to a single opposition leader who tried to bring democratic reform to Russia. This film is highly recommended for any collection but will add to collections focused on international politics and current events. In addition, with the focus on the journalistic investigation into this story, this is a solid supplemental title for any collection supporting communication studies.

Festival Favorite Award, Sundance Film Festival; Audience Award, US Documentary, Sundance Film Festival; Best Feature Documentary Shortlist, IDA Documentary Awards; Best Documentary Feature, Academy Awards; Official Competition Special Jury Prize, Seattle International Film Festival; Scotiabank Docs For Schools Student's Choice Award, Hot Docs; Best Documentary, Nesnadny + Schwartz Portrait Documentary Competition, Cleveland International Film Festival

Published and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Anyone can use these reviews, so long as they comply with the terms of the license.