H2O Motion Pictures, a London and Los Angeles based independent production and distribution company, has acquired the rights to three books by Anna Politkovskaya, the award-winning Russian journalist who was shot to death in a suspected contract killing in Moscow on Saturday, October 7, 2006. Alexander Litvinenko the former KGB/FSB officer who four weeks later become a rare victim of lethal polonium-210 radiation poisoning under highly suspicious circumstances, accused Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the assassination of Politkovskaya. H2O will develop a feature film about Anna Politkovskaya, Russia’s leading radical journalist, and a bold and steadfast critic of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.
Unflinching, passionate, and marked with the humanity that made Politkovskaya a heroine to readers in her homeland and throughout the world, “A Russian Diary” is a devastating account of contemporary Russia under the current government.
“Putin’s Russia” is a disturbing appraisal of the policies of Russia’s head of state. From her unique vantage point at the heart of Russia’s current affairs, Politkovskaya set out to dismantle both Putin as an individual and as a brand name — as he was marketed to the West. The book also details her insights into the tragic mishandling of the Moscow theatre hostage crisis in October, 2002, when Chechen militants took over a theatre with 850 people inside. The subsequent raid by Russian forces resulted in the deaths of as many as 200 hostages.
“A Severed Head,” the final, unpublished manuscript she was working on prior to her death is a personal journey into the violent southern province of Chechnya.
Andras Hamori of H2O, who has over 35 feature films to his credits, produces the film. Hamori’s films have been nominated for numerous awards including two Academy Awards for Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, and two Golden Globe Awards for Istvan Szabo’s Sunshine, starring Ralph Fiennes. In addition, he produced Oscar® nominated filmmaker Lajos Koltai’s directorial debut, Fateless, based on the novel by Nobel prize-winning author Imre Kertesz, which received a prestigious invitation to the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival. Hamori also produced The 51st State starring Samuel L. Jackson, Owning Mahowny starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Max starring John Cusack, as well as David Cronenberg’s ExistenZ and Crash.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of a film based on Anna Politkovskaya’s life,” said Andras Hamori, who optioned the rights from her literary executor Toby Eady with Karolina Sutton at ICM. “Her writings deal with universal themes of freedom of the press and the newly westernized states’ struggle to rise to the challenges of democracy, but most importantly how world politics can reach into one’s living room and destroy a private life.”
Sidney Blumenthal, who is an associate producer on the film, added: “When I met Anna three years ago, she told me how she struggled to report the truth about terrorism in Chechnya and authoritarian government in Russia. She suspected even then that she was marked for assassination. Her story is the most significant one of our time about freedom of the press!”
A distinguished author and journalist, Sidney Blumenthal is the former Senior Adviser to President Clinton and most recently the author of “How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime.” He is currently a columnist for The Guardian of London, and Salon.com, as well as a special correspondent for BBC television. This project reunites Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Hamori after Blumenthal was brought on as associate producer by Hamori on the motion picture Max. Blumenthal was previously a consultant on Robert Altman’s Tanner ’88 and executive producer of Taxi to the Dark Side, which was awarded the jury prize for Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2007.
Known to many as “Russia’s lost moral conscience,” Politkovskaya was the country’s most famous journalist, whose trademark short gray hair and glasses were a familiar sight to Russians before she was banned from television six years ago. In “A Russian Diary,” she puts a human face to the rights abuses suffered by her countrymen under the current regime, interviewing everyone from warlords and traumatized Chechen veterans to the mothers of mysteriously “disappeared” young men and women, and of children killed in the 2004 Beslan school siege, which left more than 360 people dead.
Politkovskaya’s dogged exposure of rights abuses under the Putin government made the 48-year-old mother of two a target. She received numerous death threats during her career and in 2004 she was poisoned en route to help in negotiations with the hostage-takers in the Beslan school siege. She was also detained and beaten by Russian troops who reportedly buried her alive for three days without food or water, threatened her with rape and subjected her to a mock execution.
“If it were up to me,” an officer told her, “I’d shoot you.” In the end, someone decided it was up to him. Anna’s body was discovered in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building, she had been shot four times, once in the head, a Makarov pistol tossed at her feet.
Her loss was felt around the world. The U.S. State Department said Politkovskaya was “personally courageous and committed to seeking justice even in the face of previous death threats” and called on the Russian government to conduct an investigation. Former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev called her death “a blow to the entire democratic, independent press… a grave crime against the country, against all of us.”