This film is a virtual dialogue with Vladimir Putin in three episodes. There are three types of materials used in this film. First, Shadkhan reuses footage from his film, On the Way [V puti] (2001). Shadkhan was filming passengers traveling from Arkhangelsk, Vorkuta, and Kaliningrad to Petersburg via train. Shadkhan talks to the passengers about their lives, specifically life under Putin’s presidency. Second, Oleg Poptsov, chief director of TVC, was filmed walking between the armchairs in the studio and changing his outfit, all the while pretending to be talking to Putin through the screen. Third, the filmmakers used archival videos of Vladimir Putin (from TVC).
The film is edited to make it seem like the President is listening to Oleg Poptsov and the passengers on the train talking about their lives. Some of the passengers were saying, “The President is so lonely that he does not know how the country and its people live, how poor people are, that most of the bureaucrats are stealing.” In some episodes Vladimir Putin even ‘approvingly nodded’. After the film aired, Oleg Poptsov was fired, allegedly because of this film. In her book about her husband, Natalia Shadkhan notices that foreign audiences were interested in this film but found it too supportive of Putin and his politics. The film was bought by the TV Channel Russia-1 and allegedly not shown (Shadkhan 2020).
1. Interview BBC with Oleg Poptsov (December 2005).
2. Degtyar, Mikhail (2020) Reporter.
2. Shadkhan Natalia (2020) Rasskazhi pro menya, Igor!: Metod Shadkhana.
Shadkhan got the idea for this film from Elena Sokolova, who studied in the 10G class at School 281 and graduated in 1970. The President went to the same school, but he studied in the 10V class. Sokolova provided amateur footage from her school days. Shadkhan and his team thoroughly studied them, but they never found Putin, not even randomly. So they made a film with the 51-year-old former pupils of School 281 watching the archival footage and discussing their unusual experience. Shadkhan included comments from two of Putin`s classmates. They say that the democratic spirit of School 281 and Putin’s authoritarian style are not compatible. TV Channel Russia 1 bought this film, but it has never been aired.
Shadkhan N. Rasskazhi pro menya, Igor!: Metod Shadkhana. 2020
Director Vasily Bereza; script writer Pavel Shirov; producer Andrey Norkin, Pavel Shirov, Vasily Bereza; editors Vladimir Kara-Murza, Sergey Buneev, Alena Stepanenko, Viktor Kulganyuk, Tatiana Lobko, Aleksandr Orlov, Tatiana Adamyan
Production: TV company Echo Length: 2 episodes, each 52 minutes Where it was shown: RTVi; In Europe, USA (no details); Ukrainian TV – 5th Channel; Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia (2005); Some festivals, outside of the main contest
Personalities shown: Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Eltsin, Leonid Brezhnev, Pavel Grachev, Gennady Zyuganov, Anatoly Sobchak, Eugeny Primakov, Samir Saleh Abdullah (Ibn al-Khattab), Sergey Stepashin, Yuri Andropov, Patriarch Alexy II, Yury Skuratov
Characters: Aleksandr Yakovlev, Ruslan Aushev, Andrey Piontkovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris Nemtsov, Viktor Shenderovich, Evgeny Kiselev, Boris Berezovsky, Sergey Dorenko, Vitaly Korotich, Akhmed Zakaev, Georgy Satarov, Henry Reznik, Vladimir Bukovsky, Oleg Kalugin, Boris Vishnevsky.
According to one of the filmmakers, this film was banned in Russia. This might have happened because the filmmakers questioned the results of the 2003 Gosduma elections in the film. They chose to focus on Putin because the answers to the main questions always returned to him. And in a way, they kept trying to answer the question “Who is Mr. Putin?” Nobody knew about either Putin’s political views or his political program. It was an attempt to understand why an almost unknown person was elected as president in Russia in 2000 and re-elected in 2004 for a second term without question. In the first episode, they show Putin’s life from his graduation from university to his inauguration. In the second, they talk about his first presidential term.
The documentary was made by RTVI, a media outlet owned by Russian oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky. They filmed in Russia, the US, and Great Britain. It is a collection of archival videos and multiple interviews. One can notice that this documentary, which was made in the early 2000s, when compared with the documentaries about Putin from the 2010s and 2020s is not as smooth in editing and the quality of shooting, but the interviewers are more open and critical about important and often tragic events in Russia. The filmmakers tried to show different points of view. Berezovsky, Dorenko, Zakaev, and Kalugin represent a kind of opposition, while Vitaly Korotich (a former editor of “Ogonek”), Aleksandr Yakovlev, and Ruslan Aushev represent witnesses and Coicipants in historical events. Yakovlev talks about the return of Soviet symbols such as the flowers on Andropov’s tomb and the Stalinist era. Piontkovsky, Shenderovich, and Kiselev talk about the restrictions of freedom in the media and the case of NTV while Sergey Dorenko investigates the Kursk disaster and Putin’s reaction to it, and Aushev talks about the Nord-Ost terrorist attack.
A voiceover presents the pre-presidential years of Putin’s life through archival videos and interviews. Interestingly, the filmmakers decided not to use the ‘standard’ photos from Putin’s family album. Instead, they focus on Putin’s career. They analyse the role of the KGB in the life of the future President and in the country in general. A special interest is shown towards Putin’s return to Russia from Germany and the development of his career: how he left his work at the university and became a bureaucrat.
Comrade President (2004). Anatoly Sobchak and his assistant Vladimir Putin
Filmmakers also emphasize Putin’s activities regarding the fight against terrorism and the war in Chechnya.
Comrade President (2004). Putin is outing on the uniform for a military jet to go to Chechnya.
Comrade President (2004). Putin in military uniform is greeting another person in the uniform.
The episode where ELtsin leaves the Kremlin is quite emotional. Putin’s inner circle follows both presidents: the new and the old. Boris Eltsin, though he seems to be more emotional, opens the door for Putin, hugs him and leaves the Kremlin.
Comrade President (2004). Eltsin’s farewell.
The second episode tells stories about Putin as a president. Starting from his inauguration and continuing through his fight with the oligarchs; scandal with Yury Skuratov, the Prosecutor General of Russia (1995-1999) and the Kursk tragedy.
Comrade President (2004). Presidential inauguration. Putin is walking on the red carpet.
Comrade President (2004). Presidential inauguration. Putin and Constitution.
Comrade President (2004). Putin on CNN says that the submarine drowned. He is smiling.
Sergey Dorenko, (TV journalist):
In the absence of society, we become telenation. How can I be involved in what Putin is doing? I can only go and turn on the TV. This means that I only observe the TV president. I have no other president. I only have Teleputin. And so, it is with each of us. And this Teleputin is interesting – we like him, he gives a feeling of peace.
Andrey Piontkovsky (political scientist): Let’s be objective. Putin is a sincere patriot of Russia. But he is sincerely convinced that the future of Russia, its modernization can be conditioned by the tough means of authoritarian rule.
1. Umetsky, D. (2004) Novie izvestiya. Telezvezda na eksport. Interview with Andrey Norkin.
2. Vilegzhanin, R. (2004) Moskovskie novosti. Prezident tebe tovarisch. Interview with Pavel Shirov and Vasily Bereza.
3. Afanasieva, E (2005) Ekho Moskvi. Novosti, kotorih ne vidyat v Rossii. Interview with Andrey Norkin.
Film crew: Kuzin O., Korzhavin G., Myachin A., Manilova A.
Length: 80 minutes
Information about this film is from Rasskazhi pro menya, Igor! by Natalia Shadkhan, wife of film director Igor Shadkhan. Natalia Shadkhan has a copy of the film, but she cannot remember if it was shown on TV or anywhere else. There is no information about this film online.
Director Vitaly Mansky; cameramen Yuryi Ermolin, Vyacheslav Sachkov, Alexandr Kuznetsov, Eugeny Sveshnikov, Pavel Sukhov, Sergey Miroshnichenko, Igor Muraviev, Sergey Shishkin, Vitaly Mansky; sound director Lidiya Scherbakova, Alexandr Veselkin; producer Natalia Manskaya
Production: Studio “Vertov &K” ordered by TV Channel RTR Length: 55 min Where it was shown: TV Channel RTR (Russia)
Personalities shown: Ludmila Putina, Tony Blair, Maya Plisetskya, Bill Clinton, Gerhard Schroder, Yury Luzhkov, Alexander Lukashenko, Nursultan Nazarbaev, Sergei Shoigu, Patriarch Alexy II, etc. Characters: Vera Gurevich, Vladimir Putin
Film online (4 minutes):
Putin. The Leap Year [Putin. Visokosny god] was made by Vitaly Mansky with footage from the first year of Putin’s presidency (starting from his first days in the Kremlin when he became the Acting President until May 7th, 2001, the 1st anniversary of his official presidency). It includes some material from Unknown Putin. Peace and War [Neizvestny Putin. Mir I Voina] (2000). Mansky comments on some of the footage. In 2018, Mansky made another film, Putin’s Witnesses [Svideteli Putina](2018), where he also uses video from the two earlier films.
The camera follows Putin during his trips, visits, and meetings, and the film is organized as a whirl of faces and places that Putin walks and works through. This is a series of work trips rather than an election campaign or a promotional tour. The way the film is edited takes you through this non-stop presidential year: catastrophes and terrorist attacks, TV shows, and sparing with kids on tatami mats. Putin is presented as a very active and versatile person: he drives a tractor, flies a plane, tours a submarine, etc. He dares to go to Chechnya and leave flowers where the paratroopers from Pskov died and visits Vedyaevo, the place where the Kursk submariners lived before dying in a tragic accident.
There is Vladimir Putin whose image has not yet been completely formed into the one we know nowadays. It is not yet the image of the Soviet spy Stierlitz from the Soviet TV series “Seventeen Moments of Spring” that is often replicated in recent TV documentaries about Vladimir Putin—an image that seems so close and familiar and yet so distant and strange.
We observe the happy face of the president when he talks to women on the street; we observe his pale and tragic face when he speaks about terrorist attacks; we observe him comforting a random man in the passage under Pushkin Square after the terrorist explosion there. These scenes, as well as the one with Putin cuddling a dog, swimming in his pool, or talking about the impossibility of grabbing a beer like a normal person, shorten the distance to Putin as a personality enormously.
Women become an important element of the film’s storytelling: old women in the streets, a young girl with a Pioneer tie, the famous ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who bows to him on the stage… The old babushkas call him “My boy” and say they trust him.
These women hug him, smile at him, honor him. Then widows of the sailors from the sunk submarine Kursk become a part of the film’s agenda, a silent (in this documentary) symbol of the tragedy within the submarine. In Putin. The Leap Year we often see the President’s wife Ludmila. She appears with him at official meetings, in trips that are left unnamed, walking together and holding hands. It is very rare that such footage is included in documentary films about Putin. In most, the focus remains on his mother and teacher, rather than his wife or daughters.
Vladimir Putin’s personal life in this film appears as a kaleidoscope of family photos, which travel from one documentary to another. Mansky and Putin, in the film, have several conversations that often happen late in the evening. They discuss uncomfortable topics: the possibility of extending the President’s term, life after leaving the presidency, Vladimir Putin’s political views, and his attitude to the Communist past, both his own and that of his country.
Quote from the film:
Tarasov, A. Interview with Vitaly Mansky. Avtorskya programma Alekseya Tarasova. Gost Vitaly Mansky. Efir ot 25.04.2018
Karpenko, M. Filmography of Vladimir Putin. Kommersant. 2018
Where it was shown: TV Channel RTR (Russia), Leipzig Film festival (Germany), New York (USA)
Personalities shown: Tony Blair, Sergey Ivanov, Mikhail Shvydkoi, Ilya Klebanov, Valentina Matvienko, Dmitry Kozak, Leonid Reiman, Gleb Pavlovsky, Vladislav Surkov, Boris Eltsin
Characters: Vera Gurevich, Vladimir Putin
Film online (8 min. episode):
This documentary was one of the first films devoted to Vladimir Putin. The film director, Sergey Miroshnichenko, is still one of the most prominent documentary film directors in Russia. Vitaly Mansky, who had worked for state-owned television in Russia, was the scriptwriter for this film. Later, he established the documentary film festival Artdocfest. This festival had to migrate from Russia to Latvia due to political pressure.
This film about Vladimir Putin is the first one about Putin as the president of the Russian Federation. This starting point shows that Putin is already quite a closed political figure. There are different famous personalities in the film, but they do not speak. A certain level of intimacy is created via interviews with the main character Vladimir Putin. He is the one with the voice, and, as an exception, his schoolteacher in a secondary school, Vera Gurevich who is also at the very beginning of her public role as ‘a teacher of the president’ and a guide to Vladimir Putin’s biography.
With the notable exception of Power [Vlast´] (1992), this is the first audiovisual evidence of the personality of Putin in the beginning of his career as the highest official in the state. The situation in the country at that moment was shown as tense: terrorist explosions, the war in Chechnya, the struggle for the preservation of national heritage. Vladimir Putin is in the focus. Already in this film, there is only one masculine figure. All the females-like his mother, wife, and daughters-are on the sidelines and shown in photos. His wife, as well as Valentina Matvienko, a Deputy Prime Minister of Russia for Russian Welfare, also appear in an archival video from an official visit with Tony Blair. The documentary starts and ends with the scenes of Putin’s visit to his schoolteacher, Vera Gurevich (later on she will appear in some other documentaries about Putin and will also write a book about him). Already in this film, Putin is presented as a self-sufficient man whose mother/teacher figures and the other women in his life are background support.
Many of the following features will become a trademark for the films about Vladimir Putin, regardless of the personality of the film directors, their nationalities, and even their opinions of Putin.
Among those features is a “unique”—repeated almost in every film—visit to the President’s office in the Kremlin. In Unknown Putin. Peace and War, Mansky visits Putin’s office and asks him whether the president has had a look from the windows in his office. Putin literally looks behind the curtain under the supervision of a camera. All the equipment in the office is left from his predecessor, Boris Eltsin. Putin admits that the computer is his own and he is still learning how to use it.
The time and space of filming Vladimir Putin are often replicated across different films about the president. The interviews are held in the same locations: different rooms in the Kremlin, his office, the president’s residence in Sochi, the president’s airplane, his car. Sports locations: a swimming pool, an ice skating rink, a tatami. Interviews are conducted en route to some other place, in the breaks between meetings, late evenings, even at night. Mansky films Putin in his office in the Kremlin, in his residence near Moscow, in his car. They also show some protests in Moscow, where Putin is not only present but also talking to one of the activists about saving an architectural monument. This latest scene is almost impossible to imagine nowadays.
There is plenty of footage of sorrow and grief that was on the internal political agenda in those days. Mansky filmed Putin’s late-night visits to the monument commemorating the victims who died in the terrorist attacks on Gurianova street in Moscow. The filmmakers included a long piece of footage of the public funerals of the paratroopers (who were killed in Chechnya) at the Pskov Kremlin.
The personal story of Putin is told through photos. These photos, as well as biographical stories, travel from one film to another. From Unknown Putin. Peace and Warwe learn some of them: how his mother won their first car in the lottery, how he met his wife Ludmila, about the fire that once happened at his dacha, and how he saved his secretary and his daughter from the fire and others.
Some archival photosfrom the film:
Meanwhile, the history of the country is told through archival video. Symbolically rich is the episode with Boris Eltsin and his departure where Putin and some other politicians close to him are saying goodbye to Eltsin on the porch in the Kremlin.
The authors of this documentary would rather observe Vladimir Putin than attempt to explain things. The latter happens with many of the films about the president. Here, in contrast, only three people do most of the speaking: Putin, Mansky, and Vera Gurevich. Thus, we do not learn much about the president: he likes tea with milk, he used to call his wife when he was going to be late at work, he works out every day, and he is very busy and works until very late.
The observational mode of the film leaves us an opportunity to see an early representation of Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia. As Mansky will explain later (see Putin The Leap Year), he saw Putin as a person who was not used to being on the front page and preferred staying backstage. That is why Mansky jokes that he will give commands to Putin: the director tells Putin where and how to pose in front of the camera. As a result, footage, where photographers ask Putin to pose in front of the camera, creates a very vivid image of a young politician on the new stage of his career as a public figure. Recent documentaries never allowed these kinds of ´liberties´, where Putin is said what he is supposed to do.
Quote from the film:
1. Interview Z. Svetova with V. Mansky for OpenRussia (2017)
2. Karpenko, M. Filmography of Vladimir Putin. Kommersant. 2018
3. Interview A. Artukh with V. Mansky for Artterritory (2013)
Executive producers Anna Vinogradova, Aleksandr Makushin
Length: 58 min
Where it was shown: TV Channel Russia (Russia-1 now) 07.10.2002
Personalities shown: Ludmila Putina, George and Laura Bush
Characters: Vladimir Putin, Igor Shadkhan
Sometimes the title of this film is translated into English as “A conversation in the Evening” (see e.g., Sakwa, R. (2007) Putin. Russia’s choice; Cameron, R. (2004) Russian Politics Under Putin).
This film is based on the first interview that filmmaker Igor Shadkhan had with Vladimir Putin in 1991. The next year, this interview was shown as a film called Power [Vlast] (1992). Shadkhan saved all the filmed material. Eleven years later, in 2002, Shadkhan watched the first interview from 1991 with Vladimir Putin and interviewed him again asking the same questions. Shadkhan already had experience filming documentaries about the same characters after a long period of time. He has made several films about Vladimir Putin:
This time he filmed Vladimir Putin in the kitchen of his presidential residence, Bocharov ruchei, in Sochi. Putin prepares tea for Shadkhan in a small kitchen, evoking a scene from an earlier film. In Unknown Putin. Peace and War [Neizvestny Putin. Mir I Voina] (2000), Putin’s assistant at the president’s residence in Moscow made tea for the president, mistakenly giving him a cup with lemon. Putin gives it to film director Vitaly Mansky to avoid wasting it. These gestures with tea humanize Putin and make him look very ‘svoy’ for the Russian audience. The interview’s setting is very homey. Vladimir Putin is filmed mostly with a middle frame, wearing a blue shirt with short sleeves, sitting in this small brown kitchen. A black dog is yawning next to the table.
They talk about the same issues they talked about in 1991: GULAG, the role of history, and the state of the country. There is a great mise-en-scène: Vladimir Putin with a cup of tea stalks about the necessity of ruling a state with a firm hand; Igor Shadkhan stalks about the GULAG in his calm voice.
The conversation flows from a discussion about Sobchak and politics in Saint Petersburg to international affairs, poverty in Russia, establishing a middle class and taking care of the elderly.
In 1991 the conversation touched on the Soviet period: when Shadkhan notices that the bust of Lenin has disappeared from the shelf in Vladimir Putin’s office during filming Putin says he does not know where it has disappeared to and does not much care. He also mentions that the country has suffered too much and that it was a tragedy that in 1917 the communists divided a united Russia into republics and killed capitalism and the market.
Vladimir Putin talks about his family. This time from the angle of their role in society. He categorizes them as working-class intelligentsia [rabochaya intelligentsia]. They replay Vladimir Putin’s words about his family from 1991, that he has two daughters. In 2002 Shadkhan mentions that Putin’s daughter Masha is already 17 and Katia is 16. They continue a general conversation about young people. They do not particularly mention Vladimir Putin´s wife, Ludmila, but we can see her sitting next to Laura Bush, during the meeting between Bush and Putin at St. Petersburg University in May 2002. Shadkhan asks when Putin was last in a café with his wife, Ludmila Aleksandrovna, where they could dance. Putin answers that he does not remember. He switches the conversation to a patriotic refrain, saying he is not going to complain that he does not have a personal life; he would rather do everything for his motherland.
Shadkhan asks Putin’s comments on some of his actions since the last film. For example, when he flew a Su-27 fighter jet to Chechnya. He explained that it happened purely for security reasons. Shadkhan asks about Putin’s trips in Russia, whether they were promotional and whether everything had been prepared in advance to meet the president’s expectations. Putin equivocates. He says that he is trying to visit as much as possible when he is not on holiday.
Allegedly, after they filmed Evening talk Putin asked Shadkhan if he could do something for him, and Shadkhan asked about the amnesty for the heroine of his film I beg your pardon [O milosti proshu] (2001), sentenced to six years for inciting the murder of her abusive husband. The woman was sick, and three children were waiting for her. Moreover, the situation itself was so ambiguous that Shadkhan sided with the woman. A few days later, Putin called Shadkhan and said that a decree had been signed to pardon the heroine of his film.
Quote from the film:
1. Karpenko, M. Filmography of Vladimir Putin. Kommersant. 2018
Director Igor Shadkhan, Production: TV and Radio Company “Russkoe video” Length: 45 min Where it was shown: 1992, Saint Petersburg Characters: Vladimir Putin
Film online (a short episode):
More episodes from the film. Director Shadkhan is talking about his films about Vladimir Putin:
This film is almost impossible to find; it has therefore become more a subject of discussion than a film to watch. Nevertheless, whenever scholars refer to early audiovisual documentation of Vladimir Putin, they mention this film, Power [Vlast]. However, excerpts from Power can be found in the later film by Igor Shadhkan Putin. Evening talk [Vladimir Putin. Vecherny razgovor] (2002).
The story that this film can be found in the important and intimate book that Natalia Kugashova-Shadhkan wrote about her husband, Igor Shadkhan. Additionally, scholarship about the 90s and the first years of Putin´s public life mention this story often. As the story goes, Anatoly Sobchak, then-Mayor of Leningrad, was going to make a series about his team, those who came to work under him. The first and apparently only person who was filmed was his assistant, the head of the Committee for External Relations of the Mayor’s Office, Vladimir Putin. Depending on the context, Shadkhan is called ‘Putin’s longtime friend’ or ‘a Jewish documentary film producer.’ Sometimes Shadkhan’s name is missing, but the fact that he is a Jew and/or the friend of Putin is often included. At that time, Shadkhan was making films about the GULAG, and he had just returned from filming on location. In other words, right after filming the difficult and tragic life stories of GULAG prisoners, he was asked to film Putin. In interviews, Shadkhan mentions that he had not known who Vladimir Putin was, and in general, he did not want to film any bureaucrats. But Putin specifically wanted Shadkhan to film him because he liked Shadkhan’s TV film Test for adults [Kontrol´naya dlia vzroslyh] (1977-1992). Eventually, Shadkhan decided to film Putin and interviewed him in the Smolny, the seat of the city administration of Saint Petersburg.
Shadkhan was filming Putin in his office in the Smolny and in his car. The episodes with the car, according to Shadkhan, were supposed to reenact a famous scene with the spy Stierlitz from the famous Soviet television series, The Seventeen Moments of Spring [Семнадцать мгновений весны] (1973, dir. Tatiana Lioznova)
Shadkhan became interested in filming Putin because it was an interesting and new opportunity for a former KGB agent to discuss his professional life as a spy in public. Meanwhile, Putin used the film to talk about his experience with the KGB in order to preempt anticipated critics of his past. Later in a book published two weeks before the 2000 election, Putin admitted that his ‘coming out’ had been intended. In the film, Shadkhan asks Putin about his family (two daughters), whether he is taking bribes (no), and questions about his work for the Mayor. Interestingly, Putin gave Shadkhan the freedom to edit the film as he wanted and did not even check up on it before it aired on TV. It would be impossible to imagine such editorial freedom nowadays. Shadkhan saved all the filmed materials, and eleven years later, he decided to make a new film about Putin, now President of Russia. He interviewed Putin again and asked the same questions. This time the interview took place in a new location. In Evening talk [Vladimir Putin. Vecherny razgovor] (2002)Putin was filmed in the kitchen of his presidential residence in Sochi.
By then, Shadkhan had experience filming sequel documentaries about the same characters after a long period. The most famous was his Test for adults [Kontrol´naya dlia vzroslyh] (1977-1992) where he filmed the same characters, kids from the nearest kindergarten, several times with seven-year breaks between episodes. This ´longitudinal ‘observation approach has been adopted by several film directors in Russia. Sergey Miroshnichenko, for example, made the famous project Born in the USSR [Rozhdennie v SSSR] (1990-2012), based on Michael Apted’s UK-based project Up Series, filmed in 1964-2019. The Russian versions focused on the differences within society, exploring, for example, the personal stories of children from different republics of the former USSR or in times of change.