My Friend Boris Nemtsov
original title: Moi drug Boris Nemtsov
2016, Estonia, 70 min., Russian
CATEGORY : Debut
DOCUMENTARY CATEGORY : Current Time / Politics, Portraits
COUNTRIES: Russia, Estonia
FESTIVALS & AWARDS
- GOLDEN HORN for the director of the best documentary film Krakow Film Festival 2016
- Special Jury Mention (European Documentary Competition) Odessa IFF 2016
Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin, Alexey Navalny
Cinematographer : Zosya Rodkevich, Pavel Kostomarov, Maria Pavlova, Ksenia Yelian
Producers : Alexander Rastorguev, Pavel Kostomarov, Maria Gavrilova, Max Tuula
It is a film début, a documental tragedy, a chronicle showing the criminal essence of Russian authority in detail.
It took three years to make this portrait, this sketch of a talented physicist, of the youngest Russian governor, of the Russian Vice Premier under President Yeltsin – of Boris Nemtsov. Murdered by the guards of Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of Chechnya, in February 2015, the outstanding leader of Russian opposition is shown sympathetically, with humane warmth and irony.
An intimate portrait of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov—once Deputy Prime Minister and “an heir of President Yeltsin”, later an uncompromising adversary of Putin—that was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015. Election campaigns and hotel beds, protest rallies and office routine, train compartments and courtrooms, night walks and police vans –you have never seen any politician so close. This is a story how a journalist assignment turns into a genuine friendship.
HE WANTED TO OUTLIVE PUTIN
27 March 2018
A film frame from My Friend Boris Nemtsov
The portrait of the politician shown in Zosya Rodkevich’s film My Friend Boris Nemtsov.
For three years, Zosya Rodkevich filmed Boris Nemtsov. At first, she planned to use the materials for the documentary series Term prepared by a group of young directors under the leadership of Alexander Rastorguev and Pavel Kostomarov but after the assassination of Nemtsov Zosya Rodkevich decided to make a film My Friend Boris Nemtsov. Its draft version made part of the programme of the
Аrtdocfest that takes place in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
On the international level, it was shown on the Bergamo Festival in Italy.
The central story is the electoral campaign in Yaroslavl in 2013 but this film is not about politics or elections; it is a chronicle of an uncommon friendship. The 22-year-old Zosya Rodkevich was – and still is – an extreme left-winger. “I am autonomous,” says she proudly. She did not like Nemtsov at all, she believed he was a boring bourgeois bureaucrat. But her opinion changed when she met him. “In my head, I had idea that I had nothing in common with this man. When they proposed to film him in Term, I refused. When it was needed to film an action, I did not approach the place where he stood, I did not wish to have anything in common with him. But then it happened that I went with him to St. Petersburg and after a quarter of an hour I understood that this image in my head, it was different, that despite all his narcissism, Nemtsov can be seen in a different light,” told Zosya Rodkevich.
– Zosya, how did you become a film director?
– I finished school, and, at the age of 18, became Razbezhkina’s student, I studied for two years and have never stopped filming ever since. Then I got into Rastorguev’s workshop and now I have no idea how can one live differently.
– It can be seen that your film was made by a person in love – you film Nemtsov amorously…
– The camera was in love, not I.
– You are not ready to say you were in love with Nemtsov, aren’t you?
– No, I was not. But the camera was in love with him. I simply saw that the camera loved him and he was comfortable with it and reacted to every movement of the camera, was never shy, that’s why it was pleasant to film him. When it is interesting to film the person, the life itself helps, sends various interesting scenes. I was more interested in the process of careful coexistence.
– You filmed him when he was sleeping, you filmed him at home, you filmed him when he was taking bath in an ice hole, you followed him everywhere with your camera. Was he comfortable with that.
– He probably considered me as an appendix to the camera. He did not know what I was getting, he did not think about it, and that’s how he took habit of it.
– Did you not watch materials together with him?
– We did not. I only told him. He proposed crazy ideas, awful ones, voice-over narration and things of this kind. In the autumn, we awfully quarrelled because of this, when I told him that I wasn’t going to do anything at all. And then I spoke with Sasha [Alexander] Rastorguev, and he said: “Okay, perfect, let’s make a voice-over narration, put him in a chair, and he will pronounce all this, and it is going to be a mega-kitsch.” I did not want this and simply edited the material. And while I was putting it all together, they killed him.
– Zosya, were you more interested by Nemtsov as a human than by Nemtsov as a politician?
– Yes, of course. His political ideas are very controversial so I simply switched this option off and paid attention to the labels on his socks, to his jokes, to his crazy talk, to his emotions. I did not follow the political line at all.
– I really appreciated scenes when you show his communication with people. Sometimes he could use the right tone but in most cases no dialogue was possible. You have a scene where he explains to old ladies that they should look in the Internet how many times it is written that Putin is a thief. Their faces show that they have no idea at all about the Internet. It is a very interesting example of confrontation of two Russias…
– Marina Alexandrovna Razbezhkina suggested to remove this scene altogether because it becomes evident that he is incapable of communicating with people. As for two Russias, I don’t know, it is still a whole. To some measure, they do connect with him, they do listen, they may hear a small piece of what he is saying. This is why it is rather interpenetration than confrontation.
– You left many such scenes. Was it interesting for you to watch how he communicates with people?
– Yes, of course. Any person could stop him in the street and he would spend three minutes with them, if he had time, even without speaking, just exchanging energies. They nourished him: he really got something from them. This is why he often spoke with people simply when walking from the shop to the gym.
– Was he able to convince them or did they see him with scepticism like this biddy in your film that says she would still vote for Communists?
– It is a great scene because it has a development plot inside; at some point she recognizes that he did a lot, he did not surrender Kuril Islands to the Japanese, and then she still comes back to her position. I believe he could convince somebody who was not so firmly rooted in his position.
– Over these three years, what was your most striking moment involving Nemtsov?
– Perhaps, this electoral story… I filmed all the day long. I do not have many personal recollections. In my head, there is a special film about all this, and I could never put it to the screen because it involves my feelings. It was the most striking period over these three years. We would go somewhere, then we would not meet each other at all, then we could meet and simply chat, then we would go somewhere with camera again. It was by periods, filming and not filming. Three years went like this.
– And you became close friends during this time…
– That’s why I chose this name for the film. There is an allusion to the film My Friend Ivan Lapshin but there is also an allusion to my personal story, that’s why I chose this name. I am not sure I like it, I am not sure it should be left like this. Because it is a draft name, not the final one, and something could be changed, something could be added… perhaps, I would have to add a bit of politics.
– Did he influence your political views during these three years?
– We argued all the time. He told me that it is wrong to aspire for absolute radical changes because other people would suffer. “We will destroy this world of down to the foundations, and he who was nothing will become everything” [words from the Russian version of The Internationale] – all this is bullshit. He always tried to convince me and he did not. Well, I did start to look for some minimal comfort, to have room for film editing, but nothing changed in essence.
– So you did become a little more bourgeois under his influence?
– No, I simply began to wish to have walls with no strangers inside. Nothing bourgeois about that, but it is a bit more comfortable than three years ago.
– Why a revolution did not succeed three years ago? You left a large segment in the film dedicated to the Bolotnaya Square, to the rally that was broken by the authorities and became a start of a fast decline.
– Firstly, many people were afraid. By this time, only people who went out for a rally were those who were in love with the idea and were not ready for any skirmishes. Only young guys were ready. The authorities got hold of random guys and put them into prison, demonstratively, guys who did not do anything, just to make people stay at home. And then everybody sees that nothing really happens, people suffer, and nothing changes for the better, so everybody just quieted down, and a general political apathy started. Nothing like this is going to happen now, it seems to me that a new Bolotnaya is impossible.
– Are you in apathy as well?
– Me, in apathy?! No, I do what I can. Yes, I do not go to the rallies but there are no many rallies, really. If there is a small one, for instance, made by feminists or someone like this… Sometimes I do film something for Rеаlity. Usually, if a social event is ideologically acceptable to me, I take a camera and go there, and usually it results in a reel of Reality. It just became rarer but it did not stop, though it is not easy to understand if all these small resistances would result in anything.
– I believe everybody speaks of emigration around you. Do you think of emigrating yourself?
– Many friends went away. I had such a period, a year and a half ago, I dated a guy from Hamburg, and he invited me to come. I did not want to come because I had nothing to film there, and I decided to stay. Today, if one day this question arises, I know that I would not go anywhere.
– Simply because it is nothing to film there?
– Simply because it is boring there, and here I can make films. I can just leave Moscow and go somewhere. I lived a bit in St. Petersburg. I can simply travel if I have an urge to emigrate.
– There are anti-globalist actions in Europe, you can film them. There are great fights…
– It comes from reason. And in Russia, it comes not from reason but from energy. I tried to film the 1st of May there, anarchists, but I did not manage to make a film out of that.
– What film would you wish to make now, after your film about Nemtsov?
– I am filming a project about an adopted boy, his life is quite harsh, and he runs away. I am very much excited. When I finish this story, I would think about the next one. I would like to – you probably don’t know this – there are Wich-out parties, and there are very strange people there, 15-year-olds that say: I want liberty, I want to run away, I have an Orthodox Christian family. And they attend rave parties. I’d like to spend some time there and find a protagonist. Well, now I don’t have any time for this, but this is my plan.
– I know that you filmed Vasily Yakemenko for the Term project.
– It was my first try at filming. I was sent to him in Siberia, I filmed for a month, I got many reels. But it did not become a film because it was still not enough.
– Don’t you want to finish this film?
– No. I believe, he is a bit insane. I filmed him two years later on the Lake Seliger, he talked about biorobots, said crazy things about the future. I think he is a bit nuts.
– Did you not become friends with him?
– We had something between a friendship and a war. I could never relax. I had to concentrate even to make a wicked joke. On the screen, it looks like friendship but in reality there was a strong internal resistance.
– I believe that the central phrase in your film about Nemtsov is when he says he would like to outlive Putin. Now, when we understand what happened, it sounds in a different way, very dramatically, with a contrary vector.
– He repeated it so many times that did not pay any attention at all. On the other hand, how can we discuss now what he felt, what he thought when he said this? Did he think it was reckless of him to say that? Probably not. I believe not. He might have thought he was eternal.
– Do you know who killed him?
– Only rumours that seem to me quite close to reality, that the FSB decided to frame Kadyrov. It is hard for me to discuss this topic because I don’t know the truth. But this is what seems true to me.
We see Boris as he was: a man who never hid himself from us. But he was taken from us, just as they take from us anyone who represents a different point of view about what goes on in our world.
Of course, that we’re now watching a film about this young, strong, and energetic person and the fact that his whole life now lies in the past is a terrible tragedy. It’s also the key to understanding the madness in which we find ourselves. That madness, which Nemtsov himself warned about, sooner or later becomes something. Nemtsov always said evolution, not revolution, is what Russia needs. But life, apparently, pushes future developments in a different direction.
For her feature-length debut, Rodkevich (born in 1990), attained seemingly unlimited access to Nemtsov — a man once described as an heir to Boris Yeltsin, before he became one of Putin’s most outspoken opponents within Russian politics. Nemtsov’s political campaign unfolds here in hotel rooms and on the streets, in train carriages and on nocturnal ambles. An incomplete version of the film screened in December 2015 at Russia’s progressive-leaning Artdocfest, whose president Vitaly Mansky remarked: “it would be immoral, low, despicable, dishonest, and even inhuman to talk about Russian documentary filmmaking and ignore Nemtsov. And that’s why we are absolutely showcasing a special Nemtsov project.”