DOCUMENTARY

The Dmitriev Affair

96 min | Russian with English subtitles

Date
June 2023
Client
Zeppers Fim en TV

Distribution & world sales:
ZEPPERS FILM | +31(0)20 675 8594
Frank van den Engel | info@zeppers.nl

Distribution in The Netherlands:          
MOKUM Filmdistributie | +31(0)6 2953 5043
Rieks Hadders | rhadders@planet.nl               

Press relations The Netherlands:                    
HERRIE Film & TV | +31(0)20 486 8212
Roos de Soete | roos@herrie.com

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Palmares Dmitriev

INTRODUCTION

Deep inside the Russian forests, against the wishes of the authorities, 60-year-old Yuri Dmitriev searches for mass graves from the era of Stalin’s terror against his own people - until one day he is arrested and sentenced to 15 years in a penal colony.

Following Yuri closely, the film paints a shocking picture of the way the Russian state rewrites history and treats its citizens.

TRAILER

NEWS AND ARTICLES

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The 5th week in Dutch cinema’s!

In the 5th week since the release on June 8th, The Dmitriev affair is screened in the following cinema's. …

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PostKrakow1

Worldpremiere at Krakow Film Festival!

THE DMITRIEV AFFAIR (directed by Jessica Gorter) will have its world premiere at @krakowfilmfestival this June. The film is about Yuri Dmitriev who, inside the Russian forests, against the wishes …

Read More
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QUOTES FROM REVIEWS

"Superb! A throat-gripping look at history and its continuing ramifications. Captures in 77 deeply troubling minutes the contradiction between the oficial version of a heroic populace persevering for the Motherland, and the private bitterness of a people disgusted by the way the Soviets and their heirs avoid questions of responsibility. Beautifully integrates past and present...900 DAYS shows that even grasping the horrors on an individual level is ultimately a task few are capable of comprehending." —Variety

"eta ochin mozhjnaya kartina" / "this is a very interesting film"
Vitaly Mansky, filmmaker & director ArtDocFest

"A haunting film, that is not about heroes but about victims, ... a film that peels the crust of propaganda from around the naked body of pain"
IDFA juryreport 2011

"Filled with haunting images, 900 Days offers a grim reminder of the suffering that humans are capable of inflicting on one another and of the gross distortion that governments will indulge in to protect their image. Highly recommended!"
Video Librarian

"And it is particularly clever how Jessica Gorter and her team use the most traditional means that the documentary genre offers — interviews, archive footage — so chillingly controlled and therefore tell a poignant story about shame. Shame to live. A lifetime."
Dana Linssen Filmkrant (NL)

About the film

Storyline

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Yuri Dmitriev being taken to hearing

Every human being has the right to know where they came from and where their family lies buried. This unshakable conviction is what drives Yuri Dmitriev (1956), who never knew his own biological parents.

After years of searching the pine forests of northwestern Russia, he discovers a mass grave containing thousands of victims of Stalin’s “Great Purge” of 1937. Thanks to Yuri, their next of kin finally find out what happened to their lost relatives, who were secretly executed here in the 1930s and left behind in pits. Amid the trees where these executions took place, a place of remembrance comes into being where, after decades of swallowing their profound grief, the surviving relatives can finally give free rein to it.

Together with his 11-year-old foster daughter, Natasha, and his dog, Gresha, Yuri continues to search the forest, but the Russian authorities are increasingly intolerant of his work. On state television he is portrayed as someone tarnishing the country’s history. It does not surprise Yuri. “Why is all of this happening? Because we’re on the same road as before. And we know how this road ended.” Then one day, following an anonymous complaint, he is charged with taking pornographic pictures of his foster daughter. And arrested.

At the end of a long drawn-out and utterly erratic trial, Yuri, after shining a light on victims of repression for decades, is himself sent to a penal colony. He gets 15 years.

While we follow Yuri’s life, archive footage brings the Stalin era and the 1990s to life – not as past history, but as an unresolved trauma deeply influencing contemporary Russia.

Unexpectedly intimately, the filmmaker tells us a story we mainly know from afar: how a state rewrites history and what this means for its citizens.

 

1.-Joeri-Dmitriev-hond-gresja

Credits

Director of Photography: Sander Snoep
Additional Camera: Jessica Gorter, Sergei Markelov & Alexandra Ivanova
Sound Recordist: Mark Wessner
Editor: Katharina Wartena
Sound Design & Mix: Hugo Dijkstal
Colorist: John Terborg
Written by Jessica Gorter
Production & Research Russia: Oksana Maksimchuk
Line Producer: Elize Kerseboom
Director’s Advisor: Edlef Heeling
Commissioning Editor EODOCS: Margit Balogh
Producer: Frank van den Engel

Director's Statement

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Yuri, Jessica and Katja 2018

The seed for the documentary The Dmitriev Affair was sown in May 2016, when I travelled to the Russian republic of Karelia to film Yuri Dmitriev as one of the seven protagonists of my film The Red Soul (2017). I was impressed with his work – searching for Stalin-era mass graves and retrieving the identities of those buried there. To date, Yuri has found the names of over 30,000 people who were executed and whose fate remained a mystery to their families for over 70 years. I also became fascinated by his single-mindedness and his charismatic personality.

When we said goodbye, Yuri told me he had the feeling the intelligence services were following him, but he hoped we would meet again anyway. He was rather matter-of-fact about it. ‘If they want to charge me, they will already have the case well-prepared,’ he said with a shrug. ‘In the meantime, I will just continue my work.’ Six months later he was arrested.

Two weeks after Yuri’s arrest in late 2016, there was a detailed news item on Russian national television. Watching it in the Netherlands, I was dismayed to see him portrayed as a criminal harming the country and the people, when in my view he should have been hailed on TV as someone helping the country and the people come to grips with the horrors of the Soviet past.

My films tend to explore the friction between history in its official version and the personal memories which are often very different. World history, in the end, is always about ordinary, real people. I want to understand the reasons why personal stories are so easily subordinated to the interests of a political goal, when it is precisely those small personal stories we need to gain a better understanding of each other and the world around us.

When I started on this film, I had no idea where it would take me. One thing I knew for certain – Yuri’s story must be told. In him, I recognized my own desire to bring to light what is being obscured, to fathom it and to record it to make sure it will not be lost.

It turned into a film I could never have imagined. Before my very eyes – and my camera lens – I saw the phenomenon known as “rewriting history” unfold: a citizen exposing a hidden part of history is himself erased from historiography.

Looking back at the past five years, I can conclude that Yuri’s life and fate are closely linked to the zeitgeist and developments in Russia over the past twenty years. I ended up making a film not just about Yuri and his work, but also about the mechanism of distorting and abusing the notion of “truth” by an institution only interested in self-preservation.

As I see it, each person, people or nation needs an honest depiction of the past in order to come to terms with past trauma. The Dmitriev Affair shows what denying occurrences and suppressing memories does to people. By doing so, it tells a bigger story about what is happening in Russia today.

Jessica Gorter, Amsterdam, April 2023