The Oscars are on Sunday and, while this is normally an event I don’t care about, this year is different. This year, the Academy has nominated Daniel Roher’s film Navalny for best documentary—and it could very well win.
The film follows Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny around Germany as he recovers from his Novichok poisoning and then on to Russia, where he was arrested on arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021. Navalny has remained in prison ever since, the state adding more and more years to his sentence, while tormenting him with ever crueler conditions. He has spent several weeks in solitary confinement. When he isn’t there, prison authorities put contagiously ill people in his cell and then don’t provide medical treatment when Navalny inevitably falls sick. In recent court appearances, the previously hardy Navalny looks gaunt and wan, and there’s increasing worry that he may not survive his internment just as the world pays less and less attention to his plight.
Navalny, which was made with the active cooperation of Navalny’s team (Maria Pevchikh, Navalny’s head of investigations, is an executive producer) and it could easily have gone the way of Navalny propaganda. Instead, it presents exactly the man known to us for over a decade: bewitchingly charming, devilishly funny, and, occasionally, prickly as fuck. It also shows his team as incredibly dedicated, idealistic, hardworking—and fiercely protective of their leader’s image, something that continues to rankle the journalists who cover him.