By Max Hallam
The Term offers a fascinating insight into the world of the groups opposing Vladamir Putin’s presidency in Russia. After its screening at the Frontline Club on Friday 17 October 2014, producer Max Tuula joined the audience for a brief Q&A via Skype.
The film follows the efforts of a number of opposition leaders, including Alexei Navalny, who runs the dominant anti-corruption blog and is an active political figure, and Ilya Yashin, leader of the Solidarnost opposition movement. The third main person of interest is Ksenia Sobchak, a prominent political activist who works alongside Ilya Yashin. Sobchak is of particular focus because she is Vladamir Putin’s goddaughter.
One of the opening scenes shows a chorus of partygoers singing, “I’m free, I’ve forgotten what fear is,” swiftly followed by footage of marches and protests and clashes with the police.
The various opposition groups are not depicted as aggressive movements. Rather, The Term reveals a spider’s web of different groups carefully considering and co-ordinating their next steps. A poignant moment in the film is when Ksenia says to Ilya Yashin, “It is important to know when to stop.”
As we delve deeper and deeper into their worlds, differences of opinion over goals and aims appear. Some members want to change policy, while others wish to change president. We are exposed to the stresses and strains such an opposition movement can have on the family members of those involved. This is exemplified by the husband of Nadya, one of the Pussy Riot members, who must combine advancing his wife’s cause whilst she is in jail, with the role of being a father to their young daughter.
At times, The Term crossed into the absurd, with scenes of Putin flying with cranes or ‘singing’ Blueberry Hill at a fundraiser. However we are brought crashing back down to earth as these are juxtaposed alongside spontaneous raids and arrests of opposition members.
The film concludes with footage of Alexei Navalny, by far the most popular and powerful of the opposition leaders, speaking publicly at a demonstration. As he descends from the stage to a rapturous applause and chanting, he greets members of the crowd who have flocked in their thousands to see him. An older woman approaches him and declares most enthusiastically, “You are better than Putin, I could be useful to you.” We then find out that Navalny has since been placed under house arrest and is denied access to the internet.
The Q&A session was brief but concise as we Skyped producer Max Tuula from Moscow.
The first question asked Tuula how the three directors with very different backgrounds, Pavel Kostomarov, Alexander Rastorguev and Aleksei Pivovarov, started working together and how this film came about. Tuula explained they were “seeking to make something new” and establish a “new channel of information . . . something more human”. For two years they released daily videos online aiming to show all different faces and elements of Russian opposition. Once they realised they had multiple terabits of material, they decided to make a film.
Another question focused on the opposition movement itself, and how it was fairing now that Putin’s popularity has surged after recent events in Crimea and Ukraine. Tuula said that there is “no room for the opposition” now that around 90% of people would vote for Putin in the wake of incursions in Crimea.
An audience member asked about Navalny’s nationalist attitude and how relevant it is in modern Russia. Tuula said that while illegal immigration was still a controversial issue in Russia it was actually in line with European politics whereby if you wish to get the attention of the people you must push anti-immigration laws.
The Term is the first in a four-part series by the Frontline Club and the Czech Centre called Moments After about life after 1989. The next events in this series are:
Insight with Michael Žantovský: Havel and the Velvet Revolution on Monday 3 November 2014, 7:00 PM
First Wednesday Screening: 1989 on Wednesday 5 November 2014, 7:00 PM
Screening: Four Velvet Men Then and Now – Jan Ruml + discussion on Friday 14 November 2014, 7:00 PM.