Putin's Witnesses is a stirring and informative two-part documentary on the rise and reign of Russian President Vladimir Putin. As the power dynamics shifted from former President Boris Yeltsin to Putin, documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky was on hand to capture a series of milestone moments.
His observations are the basis of Putin's Witnesses, and provide a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of a country in transition and the evolution of one of the world's most controversial leaders. The documentary centers on this period of transition, and introduces us to many of its central architects - or "witnesses".
The first segment opens on the evening that Yeltsin announced his resignation in the winter of 1999, and it closes on his call to congratulate Putin after he was elected as the new Russian President a few months later. Never-before-seen footage contrasts Yeltsin's home life with Putin's cunning campaign maneuvers.
The second segment delves into the immediate post-election furor surrounding Putin and his team. They sit watching election results on the country's most popular television station, which Putin would nationalize a year later. Many of the staffers surrounding Putin on this historic election night would soon flee from him in opposition.
Mansky continued to shoot footage as he remained in the Kremlin during the first year of Putin's reign. He enjoyed astounding access - from the backrooms where decisions were made to the back seats of chauffeured cars where Putin would casually outline his worldview. The changes he observed in the immediate aftermath of Putin's election were incremental, but they seemed to value propaganda and nostalgia over real progressive change.
Woven within these segments are recaps on the final days of the Soviet Union, and the events and circumstances that helped to shape Putin in his lead-up to the world stage.
An initial version of the documentary aired on state television on the first anniversary of Putin's election. But this documentary is more open with criticisms, and features outtakes and insights that weren't permitted in the original cut.
Putin's Witnesses provides an unprecedented insider's perspective on some of the world's most defining moments in the new century, as well as one of its most elusive and consequential leaders.
Directed by: Vitaly Mansky