Drawing on his own archive, lauded filmmaker Vitaly Mansky gives a close account of a turning point in Russia’s recent history. In a surprise move on December 31, 1999, the first president of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin handed over the reins to his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin. Putin’s Witnesses covers his first year in power. Putin led the country back to Soviet-style nationalism, and has employed tyrannical methods to remain in power ever since. That knowledge casts an eerie shadow over the filmed material.
Mansky’s erstwhile position with Russian state television allowed him to get closer to Putin and Yeltsin than one could even imagine nowadays. In an almost casual manner, he records how Putin, right after winning the election, silently cuts ties with his predecessor. Mansky occasionally cajoles Putin into articulating views that might give a hint of his concept of power. More often, the president’s insipid responses betray his reluctance to account for political decisions.
Looking back, Mansky also questions his own role in presenting an image of this president and his bid for power. In the face of such events, is it possible to simply be a witness? At which point does silence turn into complicity?