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Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival Screens ‘Navalny’ In Honor Of Russia’s Fallen Pro-Democratic Reformer

Alexei Navalny’s sacrifice for democracy is being recognized in the place where the concept of government by the people first flourished.

Greece’s Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival programmed the documentary Navalny in honor of the Russian opposition leader and democratic reformer, who died in an Arctic prison in northern Russia on February 16. The film directed by Daniel Roher won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature almost exactly a year ago.

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Navalny examines the anti-corruption crusader’s effort to investigate an incident in 2020 in which he fell grievously ill after being secretly dosed with the neurotoxin Novichok. With help from a Bulgarian investigative journalist, Navalny determined the assassination plot had been implemented by Kremlin agents. After recuperating in Germany, Navalny made the fateful decision to return to Russia in 2021, whereupon he was immediately arrested and later tried and imprisoned.

Alexei Navalny
Alexei Navalny in Moscow’s City Court on May 24, 2022

The TiDF program writes, “In the aftermath of the startling and full of unanswered questions death of the political prisoner Alexei Navalny, who had been repeatedly persecuted by Vladimir Putin’s regime, before leaving his final breath at a maximum-security prison in the Arctic, the breathtaking documentary that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2023, seems to foreshadow in the hardest way the fate of the Russian activist, while rendering homage to his political legacy.”

Head of Programming Yorgos Krassakopoulos
Head of Programming Yorgos Krassakopoulos

Including the film “was a completely last-minute addition,” Yorgos Krassakopoulos, head of programming for both the Thessaloniki Film Festival and Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival, explained to Deadline. “We were at the Berlin Film Festival when Navalny’s death happened, and I immediately phoned Orestis [Andreadakis, artistic director of TiDF] and I said, You read the news? And he said, yes. And we said, we have to do something about it.”

Krassakopoulos continued, “We changed things, and we found a place for it because the news was so shocking, we knew that have to do something. [Navalny’s death] speaks about what is so wrong with Russia these days, and not just Russia. It’s something that you see popping up in countries around the world.”

Yulia Navalnaya at the Oscars March 12, 2023
Yulia Navalnaya addresses the Oscar audience March 12, 2023

In an emotional moment at last year’s Oscar ceremony, Roher, his producers, and Navalny’s family took the stage after the documentary was announced as the winner. Yulia Navalnaya, Alexei’s wife, told the audience, “My husband is in prison just for telling the truth. My husband is in prison just for defending democracy. Alexei, I’m dreaming of the day when you will be free and our country will be free. Stay strong.”

Navalnaya is continuing her husband’s reformist mission in the wake of his death at age 47. She “urged her supporters to protest against Putin by voting en masse at noon local time in the 17 March election, forming large crowds and overwhelming polling stations,” according to a report by the Guardian.

“I want to do what he thought was right,” Navalny’s widow said in a YouTube video posted on Wednesday. “There are many people around you who are anti-Putin and anti-war, and if we come at the same time, our anti-Putin voice will be much louder.”

TiDF’s move to add the documentary to the lineup comes as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in Greece. The festival is screening four films pertaining to the topic, including Jules Dassin’s 1974 documentary The Rehearsal, and the 2022 documentary The Killing of a Journalist directed by Matt Sarnecki. The latter film investigates the murder of Slovakian journalist and his fiancée, linking it to “a businessman closely connected to the country’s ruling party. Trawling… encrypted messages, journalists discover that their country has been captured by corrupt oligarchs, judges and law enforcement officials.”

RELATED: ‘The Killing Of A Journalist’ Gets To The Bottom Of Shocking Crime That Brought Down A Government

Athens, Greece- Armored vehicle patrols street here Dec. 13 after the Greek military junta announced that King Constantine's counter coup had been crushed.
An armored vehicle patrols Athens street Dec. 13, 1967 after the Greek military junta crushes a counter-coup.

Greece, too, has gone through its own period of authoritarian rule. In 1967 a coup d’état brought a military junta to power. A massive student protest in 1973 at the Athens Polytechnic was put down with deadly force, but the pro-democracy movement continue to grow. In 1974 the military regime collapsed and by the following year a democratic constitution had been adopted.

The TiDF program writes, “The 26th Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival honors the completion of half a century since the restoration of the democratic regime in Greece with a series of events that render homage to the brave anti-dictatorship struggle, reminding us that Democracy is not only a form of government, but also an overall way of life and attitude that demands vigilance, sacrifices and self-reflection.”

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou (center) with filmmaker Fernando Trueba (right) and Orestis Andreadakis, festival artistic director.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou (center) with filmmaker Fernando Trueba (right) and Orestis Andreadakis, festival artistic director.

In an address formally opening the 2th edition of the festival, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou underscored the ways in which nonfiction filmmaking both supports and reflects democratic values. Documentaries, she said, “are, in just a few words, a genre with profound democratic features, synonymous with freedom of expression, and unobstructed flow of ideas.”

She alluded to the festival’s decision to highlight the 50th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in Greece, noting, “This is yet another opportunity to assert our confidence in the only constitution in which there are no human beings trapped in discrimination and stereotypes, no limitations to freedom of expression, or deprivation of fundamental rights. Being aware that democracy is a fragile concept, one we must endlessly cultivate, defend, and protect.”

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