Sundance Dispatch: Navalny, Am I OK?
Two films from Sundance will be released by HBO Max - the streamer brought Navalny to the fest, while it picked up the rights to Am I OK? in the waning days.
Daniel Roher’s shocking, thrilling documentary about the attempted assassination, exile, and subsequent arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was a last-minute announcement at the Sundance Film Festival – for obvious security reasons. But the film quickly made waves with virtual viewers who stuck around for the Tuesday premiere, earning the Audience Awards for both the U.S. Documentary Competition and the overall festival.
Roher’s documentary centers around a stunning sequence in which, after a painful and thorough investigation into the Kremlin’s attempt to kill him, Navalny wakes up early to cold-call his attempted assassins in the hours before the global press report the story. By its nature, Navalny uncovers very little. Because Navalny himself is part-politician and part-social media extraordinaire – this is mostly out of necessity, after he was blacklisted from official state media channels in his home country – all of this footage has been posted to his various channels, from TikTok to YouTube to Twitter. But Roher is fully aware of this: in a recent interview, he notes that of the 33 million views on one of Navalny’s more popular videos, something like 32 million come from Russian YouTube. Navalny brings the man and his mythmaking to U.S. audiences.
The film’s style is straightforward, but very little flourish or embellishment is needed with such an important and captivating story. To his credit, Roher doesn’t shy away from showing us a version of Navalny that may not sit quite right with audiences. Navalny does what he has to – whatever he has to – to survive and challenge an authoritarian government. To U.S. audiences who are used to the privilege of ideological purity, and furthermore, the privileges of freedom of speech and fair elections (for now), this may take some getting used to. But Navalny doesn’t have our luxuries; he can’t afford to focus on anything but his own survival and the toppling of a dictator. Every additional view on one of his videos advances his cause.
With that spirit in mind, with CNN Films and HBO Max distributing Navalny, let’s hope his message is cast far and wide.
Am I OK?
In Am I OK?, Lucy (Dakota Johnson) confronts a realization about her sexual identity, while her best friend, Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), accepts a promotion that will move her halfway around the world. When the film lingers on the difficult transitions of early-30s adulthood – and the impact this has on the relationships we carry over from our 20s – it is full of life and poignancy. Directors Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allyne, writing from personal inspiration, understand that as life moves on, it’s not the things we have in common that keep our friendships together, it’s sheer force of will.
Johnson is quietly crushing as Lucy, as she navigates the shame and frustration that come with feeling like you’re learning things about yourself that you should have known – and maybe did know – for decades. Unfortunately, she is the only character with any depth. Jane is defined almost entirely by her relationship to Lucy, and their arguments feel too manufactured for climactic moments, triggered by things Jane says and do that don’t feel rooted in her character. And the eclectic group of supporting characters are mostly LA caricatures, used for little except either attempts at cheap humor or narrative convenience.