It started as a possible case of food poisoning but within weeks turned into a grim spectacle of enormous political proportions: Aleksander Litvinenko, former member of the Russian secret service, died in his place of residence London last November, after having been poisoned with a radioactive substance. The search for the possible perpetrators lead to a political difficult situation that reminded us of the dark days of the Cold War.
Three years ago Aleksander Litvinenko told his life story to documentary maker Jos De Putter. It is a wild tale full of conspiracies, assassination attempts and imputations. Litvinenko talks about his time with the secret service, about his experience in Chechnya, and in particular about the series of bomb attacks on Russian territory that led to the seizure of power by Vladimir Putin. According to Litvinenko those attacks were the work of the secret service. After Litvinenko’s funeral in December 2006, Backlight spoke to Litvinenko’s widow. Marina Litvinenko is writing a book about her husband. The book will be published in May 2007 and the film rights have already been sold to Columbia Pictures. In this unique interview, she speaks about how they first met, how they fled to England and she speaks about Aleksander´s death agony. We also see Litvinenko’s father Walter, with Chechen leader and Litvinenko’s closest friend Akhmed Zakayev and the prominent Russian exile Vladmir Bukovsky, also a friend of Litvinenko. The result is an impressive 55-minute portrait of a former spy whose death brought him worldwide fame.
This documentary is a provocative account of the final days of ex-Federal Security Service officer, Russian dissident and writer Aleksandr Litvinenko as well as an engrossing look into the tense political situation in Russia. In November 2006 the world was shocked by photographs of a weakened and bald Litvinenko fighting for his life in a UK hospital. Despite a rigorous investigation, it wasn’t until after his death on the 24th of November 2006, that results revealed that Litvinenko, a former secret service operative granted political asylum in the UK, was the rare victim of polonium-210 poisoning. In this shocking film started two years before Litvinenko’s death, directors Jos de Putter and Masha Novikova boldly chronicle the dissident turned activist’s story from his time as a lieutenant-colonel in the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, to his arrest for publicly speaking out against his superiors and ultimately to his decision to flee his native Russia. Composed of candid and riveting interviews with Litvinenko - some of which feature the stoic thinker prophesizing his own death – Litvinenko’s father and Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen President in exile, this ripped from the headlines, eye-opening documentary is both a political tour de force and an example of masterful filmmaking.
Jos de Putter was born in Terneuzen, the Netherlands in 1959. He studied political science and literature, and worked several years as a film critic, before he made his first documentary in 1993. He also worked for the TV program “Diogenes.” In 2003, de Putter was honored with a retrospective of his films at the CIDF, followed by the similar program made by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Pacific Film Archives, Berkley (2002) and the Brooklyn School of Music in 2005.