"THE HOTTEST TICKET at this years's Berlin film festival is for a film that almost did not make it here."


The Irish Times - Thursday, February 10, 2011

Russian tycoon film almost a non-runner at Berlin festival


THE HOTTEST ticket at this years's Berlin film festival, opening this evening, is for a film that almost did not make it here.

German director Cyril Tuschi has told how the footage for his controversial documentary Khodorkovsky , about the 47-year-old Russian oil oligarch, has been stolen twice in recent weeks.

Ahead of Monday's festival premiere, Mr Tuschi has left his home for his own safety and says he feels intimidated by people who don't want the film released.

"Someone wants to scare me and I have to admit, they've been successful," Mr Tuschi told a German newspaper.

He has spent five years piecing together the rise of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, from true-believer Leninist student to post-Soviet Russia's richest man and head of the oil giant Yukos. The film then documents his seven-year fall from grace, since his arrest in 2003 on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement.

Mr Khodorkovsky, who sees the charges against him as politically motivated, was jailed for a second time on fraud charges in December and is likely to be in jail until at least 2017.

For Mr Tuschi, the story is a mix of Shakespearean drama and macho conflict, pitting Russia's richest man, who supported opposition media in Russia, against the all-powerful president, Vladimir Putin.

The director was aware he had chosen a controversial subject - he describes the trials against the businessman as "absurdist theatre" - but was taken by surprise at the challenges he has faced during filming.

He recalls being followed through Siberia and suspects his phone was tapped regularly. Then a few weeks ago, a hard drive containing footage he was editing was stolen from his hotel room in Bali.

Last week, just before he submitted the final print to film festival organisers, burglars broke into his office and stole four computers containing the final print.

Berlin audiences will be watching a final draft version he had sent to the festival days before the break-in.

The film's greatest coup is a short interview with Mr Khodorkovsky, filmed in court, a guard tapping out the elapsed minutes on the director's back with a machine gun. It's the first real interview with the jailed businessman since his arrest seven years ago.

"I believed that I had to stand up for myself in court," says Mr Khodorkovsky, explaining his return to Russia when he knew he faced arrest. "I believe in something called justice."