Arts and Culture
3:17 pm
Thu February 28, 2013

'Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer' tells the inside story behind the protest

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Festival.  Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes.

A little over a year ago, members of the feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot staged an unauthorized performance inside Russia’s main cathedral, railing against the recently re-elected President Vladimir Putin. Video of their "punk prayer" went viral, and their subsequent arrest raised an international outcry, with notable figures like Madonna and Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi calling for their release.

Now, a new documentary is refocusing attention on the Pussy Riot saga. Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer takes audiences beyond the headlines and gives the inside story of the band. Filmed over the course of six months, directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin provide unprecedented access into the lives of the three women who were arrested: Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, and Yekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich.

Making a film like this did present some complications. How do you tell the story when your main protagonists are behind bars? Pozdorovkin and Lerner had the good fortune of coming into contact with hours of court footage. Combined with footage the band took, and interviews with lawyers, family members, and friends, the two filmmakers paint a rich portrait of the lives of the three women.

Pozdorovkin says the Pussy Riot story is much larger than simply one of a political protest against Putin. He sees parallels with the Occupy Movement and Arab Spring Revolutions. “[Their story] speaks to this current moment where there does seem to be something brewing within a younger generation -- there’s a greater level of political engagement.”

Pozdorovkin spoke to KBIA before his trip to Columbia.

On why he decided to make the film:

I think both Mike and I were attracted to stories about the power of art to transform society. And we’re both big fans of punk rock. And then I also felt that I shared a great deal, kind of a shared past with the 3 women, and grown up through similar times in Russia, and listened to the same loud records, and had arguments with my parents about the role feminism should play in Russian society. So once I heard about them it just seemed like the most natural film to make.

On the transformative power of art:

I believe that art does transform consciousness and does transform society, but when you grow up in the Soviet Union and Russia, you become kind of allergic to propaganda in a weird way. I’ve spoken to people about this. My personal preference is to avoid making a statement of something. Rather, the humanistic complexity of the situation, I’m usually attracted to more.


On what audiences should take away from the film:

I think that one of the things that has happened is that in the West, the story of Pussy Riot has been presented in one way, which is basically that [a] punk band sings a song against Putin [and] gets arrested. In Russia, it was portrayed mostly in religious terms and mostly in terms of religious fundamentalism and this militant atheism. The reality is just a great deal more rich, so I hope that people get that sense out of the movie. There’s also a way in which the film looks at moments in past Russian history that have historical resonances with the Pussy Riot story. In a way, that’s one of the things the film tries to do: to look at this 40 second performance that happened in the church, and figure out why it became such a big deal. Why people took such grave offense. Why it became such a huge international media story.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is set to screen at True/False with directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin on Friday, March 1 at 9:15pm at The Blue Note; Saturday, March 2 at 10:00pm at Little Ragtag ; and Sunday, March 3 at 5:30pm at Forrest Theater.

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