Scenes Putin doesn't want you to see

From Sochi to Pussy Riot, Russian film-makers are speaking out

These are rousing times for the Russian film industry. A new Second World War 3D Imax blockbuster, Stalingrad, directed by Fedor Bondarchuk (son of legendary War and Peace director Sergei Bondarchuk) and made with substantial government support, has been a huge box-office success. It is now in the running for this year's foreign language Oscar. The state is pouring money into film production. In recent years, arthouse movies as well as commercial fare have benefitted. Alexander Sokurov's Venice Golden Lion winner Faust was championed by none other than Vladimir Putin. Nonetheless, there are limits to what the government will tolerate.

"If you want to make a film that says Russia is a horrible place to live, the only option is to fly away, don't ask the state for money," the minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky recently told an American film trade magazine.

Dissent is becoming the province of low-budget independent documentaries. At the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) this month, there are two films screening that most certainly did not receive the blessing of the government.

Alexander Gentelev's Putin's Games is the kind of movie bound to infuriate the authorities. It draws attention to the chaos, environmental destruction and corruption that have dogged preparations for next February's Winter Olympics in Sochi (which now have an estimated cost of $50bn.)

The tone of the film is ironic and often even comical. Gentelev uses jaunty music. His interviewees frequently express bemusement at the idea of staging a winter games in a sub-tropical region. "I know the city and I can tell you that picking it to host the Olympics is a fraud. First of all, Russia is mainly a cold, wintry country. You'd have to spend a long time searching the map of this huge country to find someplace with no snow. Putin found it," the Sochi-born politician Boris Nemtsov comments.

The documentary includes testimony from Sochi residents who claim their lives have been blighted by the Games.

"They took our water and plugged the wrong pipe back in. When we turned on the tap, we got sewage instead," one local complains of the building contractors who swarmed into the city after the Olympics were awarded to Russia in 2007.

"The city has turned into a concrete trap," says another resident, bemoaning the loss of flowers and fruit trees. There is footage of the giant landfill sites that now surround the city and which, the documentary suggests, is transforming Sochi, one of Russia's most famous leisure resorts, into "a giant dump".

As Gentelev reveals, officials behind the Games refused to speak to him. "It is very difficult to film in Sochi. The construction sites are reminiscent of military bases and it's almost impossible to arrange interviews with senior officials responsible for the Sochi Olympics." Putin's Games follows on from Gentelev's 2010 documentary Thieves by Law, an inside look at the history of the Russian mafia from the Stalin-era Gulags to the present day. Again, this isn't a side of Russian society that the ministry of culture can have been at all keen to see publicised.

Also screening at IDFA is the documentary Pussy Versus Putin, made by the Russian film collective Gogol's Wives. This a grimly entertaining fly-on-the-wall chronicle of the protests against Putin by the feminist punk group Pussy Riot. It is the second film about the band in under a year, following on from Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, which opened the Sheffield Documentary Festival earlier this year.

The new documentary contains lengthy scenes of the Pussy Riot members discussing their political aims along with footage of their stunts during the run-up to the 2012 Russian presidential election. Early on, we see them performing a gig on top of a tram in their brightly coloured masks as the infuriated driver tries to stop them and then playing to bemused commuters on the subway.

The mood of the film varies wildly. At times, it is as high-spirited and full of energy as the performances by Pussy Riot themselves. However, the footage also reveals the intimidation and physical harassment the young protesters faced. With hand-held cameras, the film-makers are able to shoot from behind bars and inside prison vans.

"It is well known that Russian TV, the media controlled by the Kremlin, has no problem censoring any problematic issues that might cast a shadow on Putin's bright image," former chess champ turned opposition politician Garry Kasparov claims in Putin's Games. Independent documentary makers are stepping in where the mainstream media refuses to tread, giving us a glimpse of a Russia very different from the one portrayed in nationalistic epics like Bondarchuk's Stalingrad. The downside, of course, is that they won't be able to turn to the state for funding.

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (idfa.nl) runs to 1 December

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried