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Monday, January 22, 2007

Dutch Documentary on Litvinenko Airs, BBC Soon to Follow

A Step at a Time reports:

From Radio Liberty [my tr.]:

Dutch television has shown the premiere of the film In Memoriam: Aleksander Litvinenko, by directors Masha Novikova and Jos de Putter. The film contains a unique interview with Litvinenko shot by the Dutch film-makers two years ago. The film was broadcast in prime time on the second state channel of Netherlands TV, at 9pm on Monday. The authors compiled it from video recordings they made in Litvinenko’s London apartment in 2004, in Moscow with Anna Politkovskaya, and there are also new interviews with Litvinenko’s father, Walter, and Litvinenko’s friends Akhmed Zakayev and Vladimir Bukovsky.

After the offensively trivial and one-sided image of the “fugitive KGB man” and spy (something which Litvinenko, incidentally, never was), as he is profiled today in the newspapers in schematic fashion, as if he were Spider Man or even the hero of some sinister fairy-tale for grown-ups, the screen finally showed Litvinenko the human being, with all his doubts and fears. A human being who had slowly come to a realization of what kind of organization he had ended up in.

Masha Novikova, the director of the project, talks to Radio Liberty about the film:

“It’s very interesting. I asked his father - right, so he went to work for the KGB, and what did he think about that, what did you think of it? And his father replied frankly - ‘Well, why not? We’d watched Stirlitz [a Russian television series about a WW2 spy], and we thought it was good.’ And Alexander himself, in his interview with Jos, also says that it all started out as something totally naive, some heroic thing about catching spies. A boy’s sort of thing. But then gradually, gradually… First the disillusionment, when he was in Chechnya, and then the disillusionment he called the ‘red line’, which can’t be crossed - killing people. He realized that executing people without a trial, without a legal process, was something he would never be able to do, and that was the beginning of an enormous turning-point in his life. When he changed from being a an officer of the KGB to a prisoner of Lefortovo and Butyrki, he was able to savour the ‘charm’ of it in its entirety.”

Alexander Litvinenko (excerpt from In memoriam: Alexander Litvinenko): “You know, I spent the first war in Chechnya. I passed though all the hotspots in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Soldiers died in my arms. I remember this 18-year-old lad… I remember I was still taking his pulse, and it stopped. And during all that time not one leader, not one politician ever explained to us what we were doing there. Who or what we were protecting there. And what we were fighting for […] By then I already knew that it was a gang of bandits. And I couldn’t see any difference between the officers and the bandits. Against whom we were fighting, by the way. With the sole difference that the bandits had no state authority, but our officers had.. And I realized that I’d ended up in a gang, I became aware of that. I’d already realized it from 1996 onwards. But it’s very difficult to leave a gang, any gang. Even in the West, if you end up in a gang, it’s very hard to leave.”

Jos de Putter filmed Litvinenko in his own home. And when Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, and Litvinenko fell ill, we thought that… When he brought the films to me that day, I examined them, and it turned out that it was unique material. Because this is him at home, is rather intimate. He sits there, watching pictures of himself being arrested in the courtroom, and comments on it all. It was somehow very moving, especially after his death, to see it all again…


In the film Alexander Litvinenko shows the Dutch film-makers video cassettes, one after the other. On one of them he is listening to his acquittal after having spent several months behind bars on trumped-up charges. At that moment, men in masks burst into the courtroom and arrest him again, taking him off to Butyrka Prison. On another cassette a man with an altered voice admits that he received an order to kill Litvinenko.
The program can be viewed below:



Needless to say, this film couldn't have come out at a worse time for Juila Svetlichnaja, and tends to pulverize her claims about Litvinenko being an evil nutjob.

Meanwhile, the Times of London reported that a second documentary has been completed, this time in Britain, and the Russian director fears for his life:

A Russian documentary-maker and friend of Alexander Litvinenko, said yesterday that he feared for his safety after being warned “not to make anti-Russian films”. Andrei Nekrasov, who has just finished a documentary for BBC2, on the Litvinenko murder, said that relatives in Russia had received the threat this week from “an old friend”. “I am concerned for my safety,” he told The Times. “I do not know if it is safe for me to return to my home in St Petersburg.” Mr Nekrasov was close to Litvinenko and visited him regularly in hospital after his poisoning with radioactive polonium-210. His film for Storyville My Friend Sacha: a Very Russian Murder is said to be a powerful indictment of the authoritarianism of President Putin’s Russia. It includes an interview with Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, and footage implicating the Kremlin in the attempted murder of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch who has been granted asylum in Britain. Mr Nekrasov has also contributed to Panorama, How to Poison a Spy, on BBC1, which will also be shown on Monday evening. It will not name the murderer, but it is expected to implicate the Russian authorities in Litvinenko’s poisoning.

The two programmes will anger the Kremlin, which claims that the Western media is biased against Mr Putin. Russia denies any involvement in Litvinenko’s killing.

  • Hollywood studios are in a race to bring out the first film on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Michael Mann, who was behind Miami Vice and The Aviator, and Columbia Pictures offered $1.5 million for the rights to Death of a Dissident — written by the agent’s widow, Marina. They face competition from Johnny Depp’s company who want to film Sasha’s Story: The Life and Death of a Russian Dissident, written by Alan Cowell, the New York Times London bureau chief. A third film Blowing Up Russia is being developed by the Beverley Hills-based Braun Entertainment Group. and is a spy thriller based on Litvinenko’s own book alleging that President Putin ordered his agents to blow up apartment blocks in Moscow and blame it on Chechen separatists.

    Kremlin officials have let it be known they will take steps to ban all three productions from being seen in Russia.


    Anonymous said...

    Hi Kim:

    David McDuff's blog is "A STEP At A Time," and not ONE DAY At A Time" -- a really great blog, too, as you've discovered.

    La Russophobe said...

    Hi Mari,

    Thanks for the correction! I have some kind of mental block about that name, I constantly get it wrong.