Human Rights Watch 2020: ‘The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Human Rights Watch Festival 2020, Movies by - February 03, 2020
Human Rights Watch 2020: ‘The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov’

Askold Kurov’s documentary The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov concerns itself with subject Oleg Sentsov – a Ukrainian filmmaker based in Russian-occupied Crimea – on trial in Russia for planning terrorist bombings of Russian monuments, bridges and power lines. 

Sentsov maintains his innocence throughout, claiming that the other suspects that accused him of being ringleader did so under duress after hours of torture. The film follows Sentsov’s cousin Natalia Kaplan and her campaign to have him exonerated before the conclusion of – what the movie posits – a show-trial that Sentsov himself suggests was decided long before the proceedings began, intimating that he never had a chance at going free. 

As the film progresses, many Ukrainian filmmakers and artists hold vigils and screenings of Sentsov’s film ‘Gamer’ to bolster Kaplan’s efforts to find the man innocent. What becomes clear is that these protests will fall (as per the documentary’s central thesis) on the deaf ears of a corrupt Russian government solely attempting to establish its presence in Crimea and vilify any dissenters. 

The film utilizes footage of news broadcasts, along with talking-head interviews with Sentsov’s friends, relatives, colleagues, and accusers. Viewers that don’t natively speak Russian or Ukrainian may struggle to follow along as I did, as many of the interviews and news clips are spoken so quickly that one falls behind in reading the subtitles. 

I purposefully can’t take sides here without knowing the truth. Having written that, Kurov’s documentary takes a very clear position, and while it presents a strong case for the innocence of Sentsov, as well as a condemnation of Russian corruption, it fails to provide a fool-proof defence. Still, Sentsov’s closing speech at the conclusion of the trial is both eloquent and heartfelt, and its message of peace will stick with me for some time.

This post was written by
Comments are closed.