By Ramanan Sundaralingam
Putin’s Witnesses is riveting, to say the least. An inside look at the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, that the outside world will probably never again get to see in their lifetime.
The ominous score for the film coupled with the fitting narration by director Vitaly Mansky, worked hand-in-hand to give the audience a rare glimpse into a facet of one of the most influential persons alive today.
The film premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this year, where it won the Grand Prix Documentary award. It chronicles the period from when Boris Yeltsin announced the transfer of power to the then Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, just 10 minutes before we entered the new century. The sudden announcement caused mass confusion across the region, as characterized by Mansky’s wife’s reaction captured at the start of the film.
Could it be that Putin’s plan all along has been to create a sense of nationalistic urgency, and suggest threats to national security? Was there an agenda to revert Russia back to the Soviet Union? The evidence presented in the film reveals attempts by Vladimir Putin to revive the Soviet national anthem and national flag. He justifies his actions by calling the disunion of the Soviet Union “the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.
This film also explains the dismissal of Putin’s close associates; from former president Boris Yeltsin, to top executives of his successful election campaign. Most of them either switched to the opposition, are in a state of self-imposed exile, or died under mysterious circumstances.
An ailing Yeltsin initially imagined that Putin would be his puppet; allowing him to retain his firm grip over the Kremlin; only to be hoodwinked by the KGB veteran’s game from the get-go.
Ukrainian born Vitaly Mansky gained access to the Kremlin as head of documentaries, while working at a state TV station, and was hired by Vladimir Putin to make a documentary as a part of his election campaign. Notably, Putin refrained from popular campaign tactics such as TV commercials and political debates. Rather, he resorted to making personal appearances. Thus enabling him to win the election without ever revealing a single plan about the future of the nation. Vitaly felt as though he was witness to the enormity of what had happened. He also felt some guilt after the annexation of Crimea.
Mansky spent 2 years filming with Vladimir Putin at intimate range. 1-year full time and the second year in parts. He commented at the TIFF screening that he felt Vladimir Putin and US president Donald Trump are almost identical.