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Navalny: The documentary that’s become even more essential following the activist’s death

The ex-politician shared an eerie message in the film in the event that he was killed

Maira Butt
Monday 19 February 2024 07:03 GMT
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Navalny's 'final message' to Russian people if he is killed recorded in documentary before death

Alexei Navalny, prominent Vladimir Putin critic and the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, has died in prison.

The Kremlin has been accused of a “brutal assassination” – a claim that the Russian government vehemently denies.

The 47-year-old was sentenced to 19 years in a penal colony in the Arctic Circle on charges widely thought to be politically motivated.

He felt unwell after a walk at the jail and lost consciousness. An ambulance arrived to try to rehabilitate him, but he died, according to prison authorities.

His life was the subject of a feature-length documentary, Navalny (2022), directed by Canadian director Daniel Roher.

It details his poisoning and political activism and won the award for Best Documentary Feature at the 95th Academy Awards last year.

The film portrays his career of fighting official corruption, his near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent in 2020 that he blames on the Kremlin, his five-month recuperation in Germany and his 2021 return to Moscow, where he was immediately taken into custody at the airport.

He was sentenced to 19 years in prison after a series of legal trials spanning years in which he was placed on house arrest, charged for various crimes and eventually convicted for “extremism” in July 2023.

In a Bafta acceptance speech last year, executive producer Diane Becker said the movie had been made “under the constant threat of surveillance”.

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A shot from the documentary in which the activist shares his final message (Warner Bros via AP)

She said: “We shot in secrecy. We went to extraordinary lengths to keep the footage secure. All emails cease and production was communicated via encrypted messaging. And this is obviously nothing compared to what the people in our film endure every single day.”

The creators added a dedication to the dissident: “This award is for the Navalny family and for Alexei himself... who for months has been in solitary confinement for his condemnation of the war in Ukraine. May this work amplify his simple, essential message to us all.”

In a series of tweets that appeared on his account following the Oscar win in March last year, the politician congratulated the creators of Navalny, as well as his wife Yulia and his allies in the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

“I am, of course, terribly glad, but while rejoicing, I try not to forget that it wasn’t me who won the Oscar after all,” Navalny said.

Navalny communicating by video link (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In the tweets, Navalny confirmed he learned about the Oscar while attending a court hearing via video link from his prison.

“I had a very strange feeling at that moment,” the politician said. “It was as if those words didn’t even belong in this world, but, on the other hand, everything here is so weird and crazy that it feels like that’s the only world they belong in.”

In the documentary, the activist shares an eerie message in the event that he is killed by his opponents. He says: “My message for the situation when I am killed is very simple: not give up.”

The interviewer asks him to speak in Russian and he continues vehemently:

“Listen I’ve got something very obvious to tell you. You’re not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me it means that we are incredibly strong.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. So don’t do nothing.”

As Mr Navalny’s team sought confirmation of his death and warned against Kremlin “propaganda”, Latvian president Edgars Rinkevics was among those who noted that his death would amount to being “brutally murdered by the Kremlin”.

The documentary is available to watch on BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+.

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