The fact that it involves one of the most brazen incidents of state sponsored assassination in memory means this is a unique document of a very singular man. --Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International
Shot as the story unfolded, NAVALNY is a fly-on-the-wall documentary thriller about anti-authoritarian Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Recovering in Berlin after nearly being poisoned to death with the nerve agent Novichok, he makes shocking discoveries about his assassination attempt and bravely decides to return home--whatever the consequences.
The imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were highlighted at the Academy Awards Sunday when the film about the Russian opposition leader and dissident took the Oscar for Best Documentary. The film,Navalny, explores his political rise, the assassination attempt against him, and his deteriorating health in a Russian prison.
Yulia Navalny, wife of Alexei Navalny, speaks next to her daughter Daria and director Daniel Roher after Navalny was awarded for Best Documentary Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., March 12, 2023. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
In his acceptance speech, Daniel Roher, the documentarian, took the opportunity to praise Navalny’s bravery and give him a platform by proxy. “There’s one person who couldn’t be with us tonight: Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, remains in solitary confinement for what he calls — I want to make sure we get his words exactly right — Vladimir Putin’s unjust war in Ukraine,”Roher explained.
“I would like to dedicate this award to Navalny and to all political prisoners across the world,” he continued. “Alexei, the world has not forgotten your vital message to us all. We cannot we must be afraid to oppose dictators and authoritarianism wherever it rears its head.”
Roher then took a step back and allowed Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who had joined Roher on stage, to say a few words. “My husband is in prison just for telling the truth,” she said. “My husband is in prison just for defending democracy. Alexei, I am dreaming [of] the day you will be free and our country will be free. Stay strong, my love. Thank you.”
On the red carpet prior to the Academy Awards, Navalny’s daughter, Dasha, gave an update to CNN on the dissident’s condition. “We can’t really contact him that much. We’re only allowed to write letters,” she said. “His health is slowly deteriorating, which is quite concerning.”
“He’s happy that we’re here representing the story, representing the Russian people who are fighting for democracy, and we’re here to get him out of prison,” she added.
Presented by CNN Films and HBO Max, Navalny is a methodical investigation by CNN journalist Clarissa Ward and Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative-journalism group. In the documentary, they attempt to unmask the dissident’s would-be killers.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2022.
Navalnywas poisoned with nerve agent Novichok in 2020. Navalny and Western observers have blamed the attack on the Kremlin. Russia denies involvement. After recovering from the poisoning abroad, Navalny returned to Moscow and was promptly arrested for violating probation terms in an embezzlement case he said was politically motivated. Nine years were added to his initial two-and-a-half years for separate allegations that he stole from his anti-corruption foundation.
Before the Navalny win, Ke Huy Quan won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the film Everything Everwhere All at Once. In his speech, he charted his path from being a refugee from communist Vietnam to the Academy Awards. For Quan, his story is the embodiment of the American dream.
“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage,” he said through tears.
“They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This. This is the American dream,” he explained to raucous cheers. “Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.”
Roher added offstage: “As Navalny asks of his supporters, we have to have hope, because if you don’t have hope, your future is guaranteed to be bleak and dark.”