Daniel Roher interview: ‘Navalny’ director
“Navalny” is equal parts documentary and political thriller, and director Daniel Roher wanted that way. However, in the process of making this profile of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Roher had very little time to think about how he was going do it, considering that the film begins with Navalny recovering from an assassination attempt and ends with him being arrested by Russian authorities upon returning to Moscow.
However, as Roher argues during an exclusive video chat with Gold Derby (watch above), the process of documenting Navalny left little time for pondering. “Did I ever have doubts that we would pull it off?” he recalls. “To be honest, we didn’t have time to have doubts. The way that this film came together was such a fever dream, lightning in a bottle experience for me.” The film, which debuted at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, recently earned a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary and is nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category at the 9th Academy Awards.
Making a film about such a high profile political target comes with risks. The crew was forced to take extraordinary measures to continue filming, and the risks to the subjects of the film. Bulgarian journalist Christo Grozev, who was instrumental in helping Navalny investigate the attempt on his life, has been placed on a “wanted” list by Russia. His invitation to the 2023 BAFTA Awards was rescinded after he was deemed, in his words, “a public security risk.”
Despite the dangers, Roher argues that it was Navalny’s personal courage that helped stave off some of that fear. “That reality is very scary for us and it extends to many of Navalny’s supporters and colleagues, family members as well,” he says. “But what I found is that when you get there and you’re standing next to this guy and kibitzing with him…his courage quickly proliferates over the entire crew and you quickly acclimate to the level of danger that you had previously imagined, and you stop thinking about it.”
Roher shas been touched by the interactions he’s had with many Russian men and women, some of whom have been exiled under the brutal regime of Vladimir Putin. He describes seeing not just the shame in these Russians’ faces at their nation’s actions, but also a sense of hope for the future. “They see our film and amidst the sea of darkness, in Navalny they find is a little light,” he argues. “And that light is Navalny and what he represents for the future of Russia, the future of Russian democracy and the end of this brutal regime.”