A documentary about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – who endured imprisonment and suspected poisoning at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s regime – will be a late addition to the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
The premiere of “Navalny”, directed by Daniel Roher, will take place on Tuesday at 6 p.m. on the festival’s online portal, festival.sundance.org, the programmers announced on Monday.
Tabitha Jackson, the festival’s director, said in a statement that the programmers saw Roher’s documentary last fall, and “we all knew immediately that we wanted it and would be expecting it.”
Jackson said the film features “gripping present-day cinema, incredible access, fearless investigative journalism, a compelling protagonist who speaks truth to power – all beautifully edited, directed and produced in a timely non-fiction thriller that deals with the highest stakes for freedom of expression.”
Roher – who directed the 2019 musical documentary ‘Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band’ – said his production team was “thrilled” to premiere the film at Sundance. “Boldly confronting injustice through cinematic storytelling has been in Sundance’s DNA since its inception,” Roher said in a statement.
Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Russian opposition leader, was on a plane from Siberia to Moscow in August 2020 when he made an emergency stop. Navalny was gravely ill and traveled from a Siberian hospital in Berlin – where German authorities discovered he had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent often linked to attacks on opponents of Putin’s government. Putin questioned the findings and denied any involvement.
Roher’s film follows what happened next, as Navalny and his team team up with Bellingcat, data investigative journalism, and other news outlets (CNN is one of them) to investigate the poisoning and whether Putin’s Kremlin was involved.
Navalny returned to Russia on January 17, 2021 and was detained by authorities, accused of violating his parole on charges of embezzlement which, according to The Guardian, were “considered part of a campaign to stifle dissent”. His suspended sentence for this charge was changed to a prison term of 2½ years; Amnesty International called him a “prisoner of conscience”.
“Navalny” will be screened in the Sundance American Documentary Competition. When the festival announced its roster in December, it had listed only nine entries in this category (the other main competition groups had 10 titles each). At the time, Sundance didn’t say why.
After Tuesday’s premiere, “Navalny” will be available to stream again on Thursday, for a 24-hour window starting at 8 a.m. The festival continues until Sunday.