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Navalny - Film Review (Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2022)

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The documentary Russia doesn't want us to see
The Revelations Perth International Film Festival returns this July, for the 25th edition.

It runs from 7 July to 17 July 2022 before moving online for the week commencing 18 July 2022. It features the best of independent global and local films. These consist of 26 feature films,16 full-length documentaries and over 50 short films and short documentaries from 29 countries.

Among these spectacular films being screened at REV is the documentary about jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. The firebrand anti-corruption activist made headlines two years ago when he was poisoned while on a trip to Tomsk in Siberia. This resulted in his flight getting diverted to Omsk airport for an emergency landing. Subsequently, Navalny was evacuated to Germany where he has treated at Berlin's Charité hospital. It was there where he learnt that he had been the victim of the Novichok nerve agent that had been previously used in the attempt on Sergei Skripal's life two years before.

While Navalny was recovering from his assassination attempt, the idea of making a film about his life's work came about. This was keenly taken up by Canadian documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher (Once Were Brothers) and filming began shortly after Navalny came out of his coma and went on until his arrest upon return to Moscow on 17 January 2021.

Attempted murder: Prominent Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was allegedly poisoned by the Novichok nerve agent on orders from the Kremlin.

Roher originally wanted to do a film relating to an investigation by Bellingcat journalist Christo Grozev. The Bulgarian is the lead Russia correspondent for the Netherlands-based investigative journalism organisation. Grozev had been looking into the attempted murder of Navalny and discovered that officers from Russia's intelligence services were heavily involved. In fact, the FSB had been interested in Navalny's activities since he announced his plans to run against Vladimir Putin for the presidency in 2017. Grozev had drawn up a list of suspects and Navalny attempted to make contact with each of them. He was successful in getting a senior FSB officer, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, into admitting his role as part of a hit squad that attempted to use Novichok as a murder weapon on Navalny.

After his rehabilitation, Navalny returned to Moscow where he was arrested upon arrival. As he was led away into custody, the cameras were still rolling. Thus, what we all have is a disturbing picture of an authoritarian leader (Putin) stopping at nothing to silence a harsh and fearless critic (Navalny) who is sincere about reforming the system. The fact that Navalny could have settled down comfortably in Germany after his treatment but chose to return to Russia to continue the fight against everything that was wrong with his country is remarkable. Especially when this is seen in how he was detained on fabricated charges immediately after touching down.

The documentary Navalny should be seen in tandem with A House Made of Splinters which is also in this year's REV line-up. The latter is also a documentary filmed in Eastern Europe. The focus is on children in Ukraine's war-torn Donetsk region who are placed in halfway houses while awaiting judicial decisions. This film was made in 2021, just before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, an act that Navalny and his supporters have roundly condemned.

Other entrants for REV 2022 are the Watergate-inspired drama 18 1/2 that seeks to explain the infamous eighteen and an half missing minutes from the Nixon tapes, Western Australia-filmed Edward and Isabella starring Chloe Hurst (A Few Less Men) and directed by Adam Morris on his first attempt and Bassendream, shot on location in the Perth suburb of Bassendean. Both the latter two films have Halo Films' Ian Hale (The Xrossing, Before Dawn) as executive producer. There is also the Bruce Gladwin-directed Shadow featuring a cast of actors with disabilities.

On the whole, this year's REV features an exciting line-up. The best part is that you can always catch it online if you missed the regular screenings.

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*Andrew Situ was invited as a guest
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