Dir: Boris Ivanov | Sea to Sky | BC Spotlight | Canada | 2017 | 76 mins
Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, 9:30 p.m. | International Village 9
Vancouver director Boris Ivanov was in the audience for the world premiere of his feature documentary covering items on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s blacklist. The screening coincided with Putin’s 65th birthday, an irony not lost on the filmmaker. As protestors in Russia rallied in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Ivanov’s film screened to a nearly full house at VIFF.
The film opens on news footage of a newborn baby. There are thousands upon thousands of orphans in Russia. Finding parents through international adoption is no longer an option for these children. The State Duma banned international adoption of Russian children to U.S. families as retaliation for the Magnitsky Act of 2012. This is the crux of the issue for Ivanov.
The international adoption ban was conflated with Putin’s vendetta against LGBTQ people when it was extended to include any country that allows same-sex unions. The Russian anti-gay agenda is shown to be a war of ideologies with the Western world. LGBTQ people are the scapegoats in Putin’s campaign for a Russia centered around religious family values. Focusing on Russia’s international adoption ban, sanctions of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and discriminatory “gay propaganda” laws, the film highlights the power of information — notably, the danger of misinformation.
On Putin’s Blacklist bears witness to the broken dreams of would-be parents who had begun the adoption process, forming bonds with Russian children, only to be stopped by bureaucracy. Clips of speeches from former children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov demonstrate the propaganda being used to justify the law. He refers to orphans as Russia’s “natural resources” and describes international adoption as “giving away citizens, essentially for slavery.”
One of the most effective moments of the film is when footage of LGBTQ protests in Russia is juxtaposed with Canadian pride parades. Laws against LGBTQ rights in Russia are shown to be signals to the Russian populace that these people are outside of the law. Closing out with an urgent call to allow LGBTQ asylum seekers refuge in the west, the film makes it clear that there is currently no future for gay people in Russia.
The film features interviews with subjects well-versed in Putin’s suspicion of the west, including children who were adopted into Canadian and U.S. families, feminist protest punk rock group Pussy Riot and former member of the State Duma, Ilya Ponomarev.
After the Olympics, Putin’s approval rating went up, triggering a greater outflow of people than ever before. With intimidation, and propaganda infiltrating television, there was no place for those who questioned Putin’s logic. Newspaper-themed title cards and clips straight from state-sponsored channel RT (formerly Russia Today) drive home the paranoid atmosphere Putin has created. Ivanov says he wanted the audience to get an idea of what Russian audiences hear and see in order to better appreciate what they feel. The result is effective, revealing how Putin has fabricated enemies and created a xenophobic paranoia that the west is the enemy out to destroy Russia.
Watch the trailer here.