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"Putin's Witnesses" (Latvia, Czech Republic, Switzerland), documentary directed by Vitaly Mansky. Fipadoc 2019

A smashing documentary about Vladimir Putin's irresistible political rise and the beginning of his takeover in Russia won the Fipadoc International Documentary Grand Prix. "Putin's Witnesses", a relentless documentary, was made by Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, an exile in Latvia. 159 films were presented at the first edition of the International Documentary Festival, which closed its doors on Sunday 27 January. This event in Biarritz, open to professionals and the general public, aims to become the reference meeting in France for all kinds of documentaries.

How did Vladimir Putin come to power in 1999? The story has been told thousands of times, but never like Vitaly Mansky. At the time, the Russian filmmaker was well established in official institutions. During the surprise rise of Putin, he had to make a film for the Russian state television to the glory of the new president. From where new and striking archives, turned at the right moment in the highest spheres of the power.

Especially since 20 years later, Mansky has visibly changed sides. "Putin's Witnesses" is an explosive documentary about the first months of Putin's rule. His images, often marked by a strange intimacy, explain nothing, but through his allusions, they help to understand how Russia has changed and turned into an authoritarian system in the service of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

" The strong man "

During the election campaign in March 2000, Putin refuses to make debates on television. At the same time, a series of attacks attributed to Chechen terrorists has increased its popularity by two to fifty percent. He becomes the strong man that a majority of the Russian people claim.

The documentary does not feed on spectacular images, prefers to show raw images, almost banal: we meet on the day of the elections face to face with Putin, at table with Boris Yeltsin, in the polling station with Gorbachev. The latter refuses to reveal who he voted for. Yeltsin is enthusiastic about Putin's victory, which he claims as his victory, before being forced to see that Putin " forgot " to call him back on the day of victory. As for Putin, he declares at the front of the camera the maxim of his future reign: " Our main goal is to make people believe in everything they say and do. And that at the service of the nation. "

" The ghosts of the past "

As time goes on, " ghosts of the past are resurging more and more, " says director Vitaly Mansky in his commentary. Putin reinstated the Soviet anthem, to " restore the confidence of the people in the state ", but also to exalt a glorious past that must especially serve to hide the heavy legacy of totalitarianism such as the gulag, the German-Soviet pact or the persecution of dissidents.

Step by step, Putin imposes a vertical policy system requiring total submission, from politics to the economy. Witnessing the meetings of the inner circle of Putin's power, Mansky examines the composition and the decomposition of the political system established by the politician and observes soberly: the faithful of the first hour, nobody remained close to the president, all are from entered into opposition or were defeated. Only Dmitry Medvedev, the future president and prime minister, survived.

" To be a witness "

The true heart of the documentary is revealed at the end. When Vladimir Putin explains in his presidential office why he restored the Soviet anthem. The director then told him openly not to share his opinion. Putin retorted laconically, " You should agree with me. " We understand. In the film, the Russian filmmaker was indeed the only person still daring to contradict the new head of state. Exiled today, Vitaly Mansky says he " paid the price for being naive enough to think of being just a mere witness ".


International Documentary Grand Prix: Putin's Witnesses (Latvia, Czech Republic, Switzerland), by Vitaly Mansky.

National Documentary Grand Prix: What madness , Diego Governatori.

Grand Prix Documentary Musical: The 5 Browns: Ben Niles' Digging through the Darkness (USA).

CNC Awards - Images of Culture (Impact selection): Coming Out (France), by Denis Parrot.

Mitrani Prize: What madness (France), Diego Governatori

Audience Award: Maurice Béjart, the soul of dance (France), Henri de Gerlache and Jean de Garrigues.

INA / FIPADOC Vertical Video Challenge Award: So far so good? , for the team composed of Caroline Hocquard, François Prosper and Chloé Weiss.

Young Europeans Jury Prize: Sahra Mani's Thousand Girls Like Me (France, Afghanistan).

Tënk Prize: Raz, dwa zero (Poland), by Anna Pawluczuk.

Erasmus + Prize: Manuel Inacker's La Bestia - Train of the Unknowns (Germany)