Directed by Vitaly Mansky • Documentary • 2018 • 102 minutes
On December 31, 1999, Russian president Boris Yeltsin went on live television just before midnight. He announced he was stepping down, and his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin, would take over as acting president. Putin promised a presidential election in three months.
Vitaly Mansky spent the evening filming his family on the eve of the new millennium. They sing and eat candies, but there is worry too. “Words fail me,” Mansky’s wife says at the prospect of Putin as president. She says he is like Mao Zedong—another dictator.
Soon after, Mansky set to work filming Putin and those around him. As a director working for Russian state TV, his purpose was making a film that would boost Putin's electoral success. In PUTIN’S WITNESSES, Mansky—now an acclaimed filmmaker whose credits including the award-winning UNDER THE SUN—looks back at that footage, including much that never made it into his PR project. It serves as a fascinating look at Putin in the earliest days of his presidency, when the seeds of his authoritarianism were already being sown. It also raises difficult questions about the role of Mansky himself. As a filmmaker who witnessed and in some cases shaped these events, is he in some way complicit?
Mansky also directed Gorbachev. Heaven, which finds Gorbachev living alone in an empty house outside Moscow, still carrying the burdens of his past.