Putin Talks, Stone Listens…

… the best he can, to Putin and the third man, who is next to Oliver Stone all the time interpreting the words of the President to the film director. In itself a difficult situation, I found myself suffering a bit with Oliver Stone, who obviously has problems in understanding right away what Putin says. And if he does, he most of the time does not know how to react. At least when it is serious stuff, world politics, Ukraine, Crimea… ”The Putin Interviews” are not critical interviews.

I watched episodes 2&3 and the reason I have changed the caption is the very simple that the entertainment part has got limited space. In my head. Well, there is still Putin as superman, playing hockey on ice, learning that sport when he was 60, Putin telling about his training and swimming every day, Putin revealing that he has two daughters and is a grandfather, I could almost see him being moved… but otherwise he does not lose control and Stone – as he promised – lets him talk. The beginning of the second episode deals with the American withdrawal from the ABM in 2002 after 30 years, the ABM being the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Putin expresses his disappointment with that decision and worry for ”the balance” if NATO continues to put missiles around the borders to Russia. Meaning that ”we have to respond”. Stone invites him to watch ”Dr. Strangelove”, the film crew films him while watching, no reactions, while the interpreter is having a good time with Peter Sellers. Putin speaks long and committed about ”the balance” problem.

Who started in Georgia, who stood behind the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, it was the population in Crimea that decided to be part of the Russian Federation, we did not want Assad to have the same ”treatment” as Sadam Hussein and Gadaffi, that´s why we do what we do with a focus on fighting ISIS etc. etc. It’s all well known, what the Russian president thinks about these issues. He talks, he performs as Oliver Stone wanted him to do, he is well formulated, OMG compare him to Mr. T. In the White House! Locations for the talks differ, a tour in Kremlin, his palace 20 mins. from Kreml, Sotji and as said the hockey stadium, where he greets Oliver Stone’s wife and tells her to visit St. Petersburg. On this point I agree with him.

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The last part of the Putin Interviews is by far the best of the four. It is shot after Trump was elected as President in the US and the first half hour of the conversation deals with that issue: Did Russia influence the American election, did Putin know about it, did he order the hacking etc. Stone seems now much better prepared and puts direct questions that leads to Putin – to a certain degree – analysing the American election and the victory of Trump. With archive clips put in from American media (Hillary Clinton, Obama, Biden, McCain etc.). From there the conversation goes to cyberwar, the American use of the stuxnet computer worm in Iran, the fear of a world war, of another Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

”It’s not possible to give fear to the Russian people”, says Putin, who reflects on all the questions put to him.

The last part also works better because the first half hour is set up like on a stage: Two chairs in front of each other in a big room. Next to Oliver Stone the indispensable interpreter Sergei Churdinov on one side, on the other side the dop Anthony Dod Mantle pointing his small camera towards Putin – and around them standing or sitting on chairs along the walls, security people, many more camera and sound people, producers I guess, it’s all visible, they are all part of a play, and now I accept the dramatising editing that I felt confused about in the first part. Maybe I just got used to it? After this Stone goes to the Red Square, without Putin, he visits the grave of John Reed, he says with a smile ”where is Trotsky”, it’s a part that fills the gap before the final meeting, where Stone questions Stalin, asks about Putin’s parents, characterises him as one of the wealthiest men in the world, Putin denies he has bank accounts all over, and finally of course: If you are elected in 2018 you have been in power, in 2024, in more than 20 years… Putin seems a little irritated, the only time during the four interview parts, about the theme (my words, Stone is more polite) ”power corrupts”… The interview sessions are over, Oliver and Vladimir hug each other, Putin says to Stone that he, Stone, will get in problems for this documentary program, advises again Stone’s wife to go to St. Petersburg during the White Nights and off he leaves with all his people through the pompous halls. The show is over. The actors leave the stage.

 

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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