Monday, April 28, 2008


Just reading about Polonium-210 reads like sci-fi to me, and if you add the component of a former Russian KGB officer poisoned by the radioactive element, it starts to read like a very disturbing science fiction. The story of Alexander Litvinenko is so deeply troubling and fascinating that this 106 minute documentary, Poisoned by Polonium (aka Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case), makes your head spin with the layers of corruption and the confusing cast of dubious characters.

Like most people, I had heard the shocking news of Litvinenko's poisoning in 2006, but I knew little beyond the headlines. Andrei Nekrasov's documentary starts way before Polonium even enters the picture. Litvinenko published a book, Blowing Up Russia: The Terror Within, that exposed the corruption of the KGB (aka KSB, FSS, FSB), and specifically its part in the Moscow bombings blamed on Chechen rebels. Nekrasov was shooting his documentary Disbelief about these same bombings when he tracked down Litvinenko in London. Nekrasov's interviews, not only with Litvinenko, but also murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovski, Litvinenko's colleague Mikhail Trepashkin, and many other players, shed light on a picture much larger than a simple case of spy vs spy.

The level of corruption is pretty unbelievable, and as an American viewer it's easy to be an impotent observer to the screwed up politics in Russia. But it doesn't take long for this story to sound very familiar in respect to our own administration. When a philosopher is discussing how a society could allow such injustice without revolt, he likens it to "the crime of indifference" that took hold of people in Nazi Germany. He could have easily been talking about the US.

Poisoned by Polonium
is a revealing and powerful documentary about the rancid politics of power. To its credit, it plays out as a very personal film for Nekrasov who no doubt want s to shake people out of their indifference. Check out the interesting website for the film here.

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