‘Navalny’ Producer Diane Becker Discusses Film & Hamptons SummerDocs Screening

Screen capture from "Navalny," part of the HamptonsFilm 2022 Summer Docs Series Courtesy HamptonsFilm
Screen capture from “Navalny,” part of the HamptonsFilm 2022 Summer Docs Series
Courtesy HamptonsFilm

Screening in the Hamptons this weekend, Daniel Roher’s Navalny is an up-close-and-personal documentary about anti-authoritarian Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The scenes are shot as the story unfolds while Navalny recovers from a coma brought on from being poisoned with a lethal nerve agent, allegedly by the Russian government. Navalny uncovers the truth about how he was poisoned and courageously decides to return home to Moscow following his recovery, despite the danger it would place him in.

The documentary will have a private screening on Saturday, July 23, as part of this year’s HamptonsFilm SummerDocs series, an extension of the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Following the screening, viewers will get the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with director Daniel Roher and HamptonsFilm artistic directors David Nugent and Alec Baldwin.

Navalny is produced by Diane Becker, Shane Boris, Melanie Miller and Odessa Rae. We spoke with Becker about the production of the film, its reception and more.

Producer Diane Becker Reveals Origins of Navalny Doc & More

What inspired this documentary?

What happened was that our team was researching other projects in early 2020 and Daniel, the director, and Odessa Rae, one of the producers, were in Europe working on another project, and through a series of events were introduced to Christo Grozev of the Bellingcat.

And this other project ultimately was sort of put on a bit of a back burner. And at one point, Christo, you know, said something to Daniel like, “Hey, do you know who Navalny is?” And Daniel’s like, “Yes, I know who he is.”

And then Christo said, “Well, I think I might know who poisoned him.”

This was in early fall of 2020. … And so Daniel, Odessa, and Christo found themselves driving across the border into the Black Forest in Germany, in the fall of 2020, as Alexei is recovering from the coma after being poisoned, and they met with him and his family and the team.

I think Daniel felt the history being being made and thought, “Let’s turn the camera on and just see what happens.” Also, Navalny was obviously receptive, and he’s a very media savvy person, so he agreed and off we went.

How soon following his poisoning did the Navalny team begin production?

The poisoning was in late August of 2020, and we began shooting in October of 2020, so fairly soon afterwards. We ended up filming from October through January of 2021, when he was detained at the airport in Russia.

Did the team encounter any obstacles while trying to capture Navalny’s journey?

The obstacles we encountered were sort of obvious in the sense that we really did not talk about the project at all. We didn’t tell anyone that we were filming. I really don’t think anybody outside of Maria on Navalny’s team knew that we were filming. It was very, very secretive and locked down; we weren’t even sending emails to each other regarding the film. We were communicating through encrypted texts and things like that.

This is like one of these projects where we didn’t tell anybody what we were doing for well over a year, until basically just before the official Sundance announcement.

What is the general reaction that the team has received about the documentary thus far?

Overall, I think people are really moved. I think they’re sort of horrified to see the real truth to how far Putin will go to silence his critics, and I think this really put some context to very real circumstances as to what’s happening in Ukraine right now. I think when audiences watch it, they’re shocked. They’re horrified! But they’re also inspired by Alexei, his bravery and courage to stand up for his convictions.

Would you say Navalny caused a lot of viewers to like Alexei Navalny and/or essentially become his allies?

My team and I always talk about it, and I think it makes people think about where they’re living and what their circumstances are, and also makes them realize that it’s important to speak up and fight for democratic rights. One person can make a difference. I think that’s what’s inspiring about the film is it can make a difference.

It recently broke that Navalny has just been transferred to a more brutal prison, better known as a torture chamber. Why do you think he is seen as such a threat to the Russia government?

He’s not afraid to speak out against the corruption in the government. He’s in prison with clear proof. The foundation and the organization has done a lot of investigative work to expose the hypocrisy and the lies and the corruption within the government. And, as we know, Putin doesn’t like that. Alexei is not the first person they’ve poisoned, so this is a repeated pattern of abusive behavior.

And lastly, was the Navalny team ever wary about releasing this film, given the reaction that you would receive from Russia?

Yeah, I think we obviously worried a little bit … but I think the entire team believes in an idea of standing up for free speech and human rights and fair elections and all of those things. And I think in many ways, we’re also inspired and spurred on by Alexei’s mantra, which is to not be afraid to speak the truth, and we use that as a sort of a guide to keep moving forward.

Visit hamptonsfilmfest.org for tickets and more information about the Navalny screening and Q&A on July 23, 7 p.m., at Regal UA East Hampton.

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