The Boris Nemtsov documentary The Man Who Was Too Free is not so much a political biography as a cardiogram of Russian political life over the past 25 years with all of its high and lows. Prospekt Magazine talked to director Vera Krichevskaya and producer Mikhail Fishman about the making of the film
Hundreds stood in line to the Angleterre Cinema in St Petersburg for a special screening of The Man Who Was Too Free. At the end of the screening, the film received a standing ovation. Some shouted, “thank you!” Similar scenes played out across other Russian cities. Many of those who came to see the film in St Petersburg came immediately after attending the public meeting in memory of Boris Nemtsov. Boris Nemtsov was a Russian opposition leader and politician. He was gunned down in central Moscow on 27 February 2015. We spoke to director Vera Krichevskaya and producer Mikhail Fishman about the man and the film.
Prospekt Magazine: Do you think one film has the capacity to change society?
Vera Krichevskaya: One film is unlikely to change society. However, I remember that in the past there were films that chipped away at the Soviet Union. I remember how one had to wait for hours in line to get a ticket for the film Come and See (Idi i Smotri) and for other great films screened in Soviet cinemas. One film won’t do it, but if more great films are seen by a big audience, society might change. It´s through documentary cinema that we can engage in critical self-reflection.
Prospekt Magazine: Documentary films in Russia don´t reach a large audience. What do you think about that statement?
Vera Krichevskaya: No, that is not true. Documentary films in Russia also work for large audiences. Since 2011, the revenues in this tiny segment are increasing. It’s easier to access the necessary technology and there is an increasing number of festivals, for instance, the Artdocfest in Moscow, which promote documentary films. Most importantly, society is ready to analyse and understand itself better. Last year at the Artdocfest in Moscow, I could not believe my eyes, I was stunned by the crowd. You needed to sneak through it to get a ticket. That was impressive. Interest in documentary films will further increase when filmmakers continue to reach out to the audience. Today’s documentary cinema is a playground for free thought and filmmakers.
Prospekt Magazine: Russian filmmakers are confronted with censorship (recent examples include the films Leviathan and Matilda). What are your thoughts about censorship and did you face it?
Vera Krichevskaya: What do I think about censorship? I think that it is awful and that there should be no censorship in art at all.
Mikhail Fishman: Yet, in our case, we did not face any censorship. But working as a journalist in Russia, I can say that censorship is a problem and that it does exist.
Prospekt Magazine: Why did you decide to produce a documentary about Boris Nemtsov?
Mikhail Fishman: Nemtsov is a profound and powerful figure. Our fault was that many of us only became aware of this after his death. The life of Nemtsov is an example of the fact that you can move mountains in politics by being honest, sincere, open, active and principled. His biography has become the history of Russian democracy and the history of our country. As a tribute to his memory, we wanted to tell his story.
Prospekt Magazine: After the murder of Boris Nemtsov, several documentaries about him have been made. How is your film different?
Vera Krichevskaya: From the very beginning, Misha and I agreed that we wouldn’t make another film about the personal life of Boris. We wanted to produce a movie about the country and about how two lives—the life of the young Russian state and the life of Nemtsov—merged. Our main goal right from the beginning was different; it wasn’t to produce a film in memory of the politician Nemtsov, although in the end, what we produced is still memory.
Prospekt Magazine: Were there figures who refused to be interviewed?
Mikhail Fishman: A couple of people refused, but don’t get me wrong, we tried our best. We do understand that there are people without whom this is a wholly different movie. For example, we thought it would be important for Anatoly Chubais to participate. He wasn’t just a close ally of Nemtsov, but he was a key figure in the political history of the second half of the 90s. Chubais refused to participate: he could not, so it did not happen. There are others who also refused, but without them, it is still the same film.
Prospekt Magazine: Do you think that there is a chance that the film will be shown on national TV- channels?
Vera Krichevskaya: There is no such request yet. We will probably show it on the independent TV channel Rain (Dozhd). Despite the fact that we told the story objectively, you can tell that because of the different characters who speak about Nemtsov in the documentary, I think they won’t show it. Among others, people like Tatiana Yumasheva, the daughter and adviser of president Boris Yeltsin, Valentin Yumashev, the head of the presidential administration, and politician Grigory Yavlinsky speak in the film. That’s likely why the movie won’t be shown in the coming years on national television. They wouldn’t allow a mass audience to see the facts presented in such a way.