MOSCOW: Two years after he was gunned down in Moscow, Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov’s murder remains shrouded in controversy, as supporters insist the masterminds are yet to be unmasked.
Now a new documentary film is set to shine a fresh spotlight on a tumultuous career that saw him go from deputy prime minister to fierce Kremlin critic — at a time when his memory is still a sensitive subject for the authorities.
Nemtsov was shot dead on a bridge just metres from the Kremlin as he walked home through central Moscow late on February 27, 2015 The shock killing was the highest-profile assassination of a Kremlin critic since President Vladimir Putin came to power.
While five men have gone on trial accused of carrying out an alleged contract hit, Nemtsov’s family and supporters say the murder trail points to more senior officials in the North Caucasus Chechnya region but complain that those who ordered the killing have got off scot-free.
The new film, entitled “The Man Who Was Too Free”, does not delve into Nemtsov’s murder but focuses instead on his political convictions as he went from Kremlin insider under former president Boris Yeltsin to one of Putin’s most prominent critics.
It is due to roll out across 20 cities, including Moscow, from Thursday after getting officially certified for release in cinemas to the surprise and delight of those behind it, in a country where works on sensitive subjects can face hurdles.
“I didn’t expect that we would get such a release,” the film’s director Vera Krichevskaya. “I hope that all will be well.” The film’s credited backers include ex-telecoms magnate Dmitry Zimin, who has come under pressure from authorities over his funding of civil society.
But producer Yevgeny Gindilis said that documentary films had a freer hand to deal with subjects frowned on by the authorities than Russian-made feature films, which often rely on at least some government funding.”Documentaries let you talk about the topics that concern Russian society,” he said. “In feature films, this has become much more difficult.”
– ‘The time we’ve lost’ –
With a budget of just over 100,000 euros ($105,400), the two-hour film features interviews with major figures from Nemtsov’s political career and archival footage.
Most interviews were done by Mikhail Fishman, editor-in-chief of The Moscow Times newspaper. The film is a portrait not just of a person but of a period when genuine political debate existed in Russia, said Krichevskaya, a former journalist for the NTV channel which was forced under state control in 2001.
“It’s about the time we’ve lost,” she said. In 1997, Nemtsov was plucked from being governor of the industrial Nizhny Novgorod region to serve as deputy prime minister by an ailing Yeltsin, who encouraged him to aim for the Kremlin.
Handsome, young and eloquent, Nemtsov swiftly became a household name but then found himself inextricably associated with a period of political instability in which many people lost savings in the 1998 ruble default when it plummeted in value.
“A time has a face. He personified all that,” current opposition leader Alexei Navalny says in the film, admitting he asked Nemtsov not to publicly campaign for him.
Nemtsov and his allies ultimately failed to convince voters to back his liberal values of freedom and protection of property rights.
After initially backing fellow Yeltsin protege Putin, Nemtsov became disillusioned at what some saw as the strongman’s cold-blooded response to the 2000 sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine and the 2002 Moscow theatre siege.
– A ‘good death’ –
In the film, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov calls Nemtsov a rights activist not a politician because he always said what he thought.
“He wasn’t a political animal,” agreed Krichevskaya. “He followed his principles absolutely consistently.” When the opposition found itself pushed out of mainstream politics, Nemtsov “went onto the streets,” she added. He regularly got detained at street protests and became a lawmaker in the provincial city of Yaroslavl.
The filmmakers said they consciously steered clear of the elephant in the room — the trial of his alleged killers and accusations linking the murder to those close to the Kremlin-loyal leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. But despite focusing on Nemtsov’s life, rather than his death, the film still could not avoid touching on his shocking end.
Former oil magnate and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky says in the film that Nemtsov would have wanted to die this way, in the public eye and from a bullet.
This was a “good death,” he says. -AFP