One of the titular witnesses here is the film’s director and narrator, Vitaly Mansky. “Tacit consent turns witnesses into accomplices,” he observes. And he should know, having been a key accomplice of Vladimir Putin’s from the get-go: most of the footage here was originally shot in order to help Putin’s first (2000) election campaign. Mansky has since ‘seen the light’, and now revisits that period in a mood of deep retrospective concern and apparent regret.
Anyone can change their mind, of course, but there’s something a tad uncomfortable – maybe disingenuous – here. Still, the result is interesting, and just occasionally fascinating. There is revelatory stuff – a mixture of interviews, chat and (rather too much) family footage – about Boris Yeltsin, of whom Putin was the carefully nurtured protege… some candid depiction of media manipulation… snapshots of Kremlin life a year after Putin took power… and, most engrossing of all, an interview with Putin himself. Two things which didn’t feature much at all in the campaign were debates and promises!
Vitaly Mansky reveals that only one of Putin’s key supporters from those days is still with him, and succinctly summarises the crackdown on dissent and return to centralisation of power which have occurred. It should all have made for gripping viewing; in the event, it’s only intermittently compelling – and never anywhere near as much as The Putin Interviews by Oliver Stone.