Some movies need catchy ad campaigns to force viewers off the sofa and into the cinema. Others make headlines as soon as their title is out – which proved the case with a recent documentary about Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
All cinema houses in the Russian capital, bar one on the city’s outskirts, have refused to screen the contentious documentary about the jailed former oil tycoon.
The full-length hot-button feature from German director of Russian origin, Cyril Tuschi, had its world premiere earlier this year at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it attracted a capacity audience.
The screening in the German capital didn’t go smoothly either: with just days to go before the premiere, the film’s print was reported stolen from the director’s production offices in the city.
Spokesperson for the official distributor of the film in Russia Olga Papernaya was quoted as saying that the distributors – who had previously agreed to screen the film in Russia – changed their mind at the last minute, fearing the mixed reactions it could provoke.
Earlier this week, several cinema houses in St Peterburg, Novosibirsk and Omsk refused to show the film about the former Yukos CEO, while privately-owned cinemas say they might screen the controversial documentary, but first want some feedback from the audiences who will watch it at Moscow’s Eldar film club.
The director attended hearings of the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case in court to gather material. The film took him some five years to complete, conducting interviews and research. “I didn’t try to show him as a devil or a saint. My impression of him has undergone a series of changes throughout the whole period of work, and I tried to show this in my film,” Tuschi explained.
Apart from an interview with Khodorkovsky, the director recorded interviews with Germany’s ex Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Germany’s Vice Chancellor in the cabinet of Gerhard Schroeder. There are also conversations with Khodorkovsky’s first wife Elena, and former Yukos employees.
Once Russia’s richest man, the tycoon was arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud and tax evasion. In 2005, a court found him guilty and sentenced him to eight years in prison. However in December 2010, in the course of a second trial, Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were found guilty of organizing a criminal group in the oil business, embezzling 218 million tons of oil from Yukos’ subsidiary companies, and money laundering.