Written by Francesca McCaffery
Cyril Tuschi’s new documentary film, Khordorkovsky, tells the story of oligarch Mikhail Khordorkovsky, then the wealthiest man in Russia before his arrest by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2003.
Tuschi has directed short films and music videos, and his feature was Slight Changes in Temperature and Mind in 2004. A former night club owner, theater worker, and philosophy student, Tuschi has the open mind, gentle humor and rigorous intellect needed to become a truly outstanding documentary director. The film is fascinating, and we had the pleasure of speaking with Cyril about his his process, his interest in his subject and the role of politics in movies.
VIMOOOZ: The film, Cyril, really blew us away. I think it’s so interesting for Americans especially, to see both sides: You could see Putin-is he really trying to hang on to Mother Russia, and moments later you realize, whoa, no, he’s really not- he’s absolutely terrified! The way you displayed that for us was so riveting. Can you tell us how you received access to court proceedings? Was that very difficult?
We had tried for years to get access. I think it was a mistake of the judge, actually. I saw the Minister talking to Khordorkovsky through the “cage” in the courtroom (the cell he was held in during the court proceedings) , and after that day in court we asked the judge if we could do the same. I told him we were filmmakers. He told us to fill out a special overnight application, and come back tomorrow. I did so, without even the cameraman, because I didn’t think it was going to work. But then a lawyer came and said, “Okay, you have ten minutes!” I really had to turn on the camera myself. I think the judge was just not briefed correctly.
How many times did you actually go back and forth to Russia?
Countless. We had 180 hours of interviews. I stayed three months in Moscow.
Amazing. Do you see the film as a portrait of the two men in a way? Their egos, a sort of battle of wills? Or a portrait of Old Russia v. New Russia, or both?
Definitely both. It’s definitely a portrait of Khordorkovsky, but he is also a symbol for the changing Russia. He was a real believer of Soviet Russia in the beginning- he had posters of Lenin in his bedroom. Then he became very strong, new Liberal populist defender, and now he is something like a mystified-hero, social democrat tiger – and this kind of a change in direction, and in ambivalent character, for me as a director, was very fascinating. And of course, we have this open fight of these two men, which was very interesting to me. I also imagine that if Khordorkovsky was a woman, and Putin was a woman, this conflict never would have happened.
That’s probably very true! Do you think that Khordorkovsky played the game of his rise as a brilliant chess move- in order to eventually secure the Presidency by becoming this political and social martyr? Does he have that kind of will, do you think?
It’s a daring theory- one that the Swiss former advisor from Geneva expressed in the film. It could be. It could be that he is such a mastermind as to be calculating his prison time- he goes in an oligarch, and comes out to just take over. This could be Putin’s fear too- the Count of Monte Cristo. Of course, this question is unanswerable until he gets out.
What do you think will happen when he gets out?
Well, maybe that, but I don’t think so. Maybe he will do a Monte Cristo-type of revenge. But I think that he has so much neglected his family, maybe he will go into therapy, I don’t know- that sounds too modern! But, maybe he will…He will take care of his children. He has to, and he will, get all of his (other associates) out of prison. I think he also wants to start a university. That’s part of his utopian side. He wanted to focus on the Open Russia educational area. But then he got arrested, so he couldn’t achieve any of that.
I loved the crisp and vibrant black and white animation. Can you tell us how you decided to incorporate it?
Well, the animation was all we had in the beginning- because I never thought we would meet Khordorkovsky We had to have an image the audience could go on from with. We had a very good German artist. The animation was the largest part of the budget- 20,000 euros.
Do you have any hopes that releasing the film in the United States will reignite a human rights campaign for Khordorkovsky? What were your hopes on that end?
I’m not a propagandist, and I don’t start projects like Michael Moore does. I’m not a lawyer, or a proper journalist. He always has the idea of what he wants to convey- and then he executes it. He uses propaganda for the poor, instead of the mighty. That kind of propaganda- I really do like. But I didn’t start like that. For me, it was something new- it developed as we went.
Your personal belief is that Khordorkovsky is innocent?
I mean, what is innocent? What does it mean? He is guilty of leaving his family, of acting like a capitalist who buys a company and kicks out thousands of employees to save the company.
Putin was also terrified that American oil was going to come into Russia.
Exactly. And you want top say that Putin was right, he wanted to protect Russia from Imperialist America!
It’s a very valid point! You can a little bit see both sides of that, for sure.
One thing I’ve learned through making this film, is that it is possible for people to change. It doesn’t matter how little, or how late. Change is possible. I really believe that.
I’m trying to get a fiction project going about Julian Assange (of WikiLeaks.) If I could bring it to Hollywood, I would ask Ryan Gosling to do it! That would be really cool. I would also like to go to a great cable network, and make a great dramatic series out of “Khordorkovsky.”
That all sounds awesome. Good luck, Cyril. You should have absolutely no problem! Thank you for speaking with us.