‘Navalny’ filmmakers on their quest to keep him alive in a Russian prison

For nearly four months, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been in solitary confinement in what is being described as a “punishment’ cell two by three meters. Prisoners are supposed to be in that cell no more than 10 or 14 days. But he’s on a never-ending loop. As soon as he serves a 12-day sentence in solitary, he gets resentenced to another dozen days. He’s allowed to read one book per sentence. And for 30 minutes a day, Navalny gets paper and a pen to respond to his letters he has received.

“Every time, every couple of days they come up with new violations of prison rules that Alexei commits, and they become the reasons for keeping him in the solitary confinement indefinitely with his charges are very much obviously trumped up,’ said Maria Pevchikh, the executive producer of the acclaimed, Oscar-nominated feature documentary “Navalny.”

“They have to do with prison protocol,” she noted during a recent Washington Post Zoom conversation. “For example, the last charges were given to him for the fact that he washed his face 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We all understand that this is very much just a cover up for the real crime that he’s committing, which is speaking out loud about the war [in Ukraine] and being probably the loudest anti-war voice inside Russia.’

“Navalny” premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival to rapturous reviews and strong audience response receiving the Audience Award-U.S. documentary and the Festival Favorite Award. Besides the Oscar, “Navalny” is currently in contention for the BAFTA, DGA, PGA and Ace Eddie honors.

Directed by Daniel Roher and shot in Germany, the film follows the charismatic thorn in Vladimir Putin’s side as he tries to discover who poisoned him in 2020 with the nerve agent Novichok. After he recovers, he returns home to Moscow where he greeted by throngs of his admirers and followers only to be quickly imprisoned by authorities.

Greg Miller, an investigative correspondent for the Washington Post in London, read from a piece the newspaper recently published on Navalny. “Even from jail, Alexei Navalny gets more done than most people. He has announced a new media platform from with nearly 1.8 million YouTube subscribers, filed more than 10 lawsuits against Russian authorities and is now the leading voice inside Russian against the war in Ukraine. But he is gaunt and painfully thin. His health is declining amidst what supporters allege is harassment and sleep deprivation…and was even forced to take legal action to get winter boots.”

“Navalny” producer Odessa Rae said it’s shattering to know how his health is declining in prison. She had spent several months in the Black Forest with him while he recovered from the poisoning and “watched him get strong and healthy. To have the memory of this incredibly strong person and see the photos that are surfacing in the media, it’s heartbreaking to be honest because he is the strongest spirit of anyone I have ever known. I think someone who looks at life with the glass half-full, he makes the best of every situation.”

But Putin will never break his spirit, Rae noted. “One of the purposes of the film and one of the reasons why we as a team work so hard to have the film seen is because we do believe that it does keep him safe. We do believe that keeping his name in the public sphere helps to keep him alive. So, that is something that we work very hard to do with his film. “

Besides being an executive producer on the film, Pevchikh has worked alongside Navalny for a decade leading investigation into alleged corruption by high-ranking Russians for the Anti-Corruption Foundation, an organization created by Navalny. “We moved our operation from Russian soon after Navalny was imprisoned because the Anti-Corruption Foundation was designated the status of a terrorist organization.”

She noted that “Navalny” plays as prequel to the Russian’s year-long brutal invasion and war with Ukraine. “It explains quite well who Vladmir Putin is, what he’s capable of and also who are the people who are brave and strong enough to oppose [him]. It’s sent a very important message that Russia is not Vladimir Putin and Vladmir Putin is not Russia. You shouldn’t equate the government with the people who live in the country.”

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