New Series Explores the Russian Prison System And The Prominent Political Prisoners Who Have Languished There
WASHINGTON – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) 24/7 digital network Current Time has debuted the first of its 13-part documentary series, “Prison Alphabet.” The first episode was released on Friday, May 28th with new episodes airing twice a week exclusively on Current Time platforms including satellite TV, YouTube, and the channel's websites. The series will later be made available on affiliate and partner websites. A feature-length documentary film based on the series is expected in 2022.
The program features 40 interviews with former detainees in Russian prisons – Alexei Navalny's younger brother Oleg, Pussy Riot's Maria Alyokhina, former Yukos director Vladimir Pereverzin, and prominent Russian civil activist Konstantin Kotov. This exclusive series represents a distillation of 300 hours of raw video, directed by prominent filmmaker Andrey Silvestrov. The series investigates the prison experience from "A to Z," in the prisoners' own words. For example, "A" is for "arrest," "Z" is for the forbidden or "zashkvar" – banned products that everyone has, "and K" is for "kozel" – a goat or a snitch.
The series sheds light on the system's corruption and brutality, but also reveals the inmates' informal code of behavior and defiant insistence on survival. Interviews are blended with original animation to capture the "parallel reality" of prison life.
According to Silvestrov, “Prison Alphabet” is extremely timely. The series coincides with increasing government restriction on the political opposition and independent media in Russia. For critics of the regime of Vladimir Putin – pro-democracy supporters, civil society activists, and journalists targeted by the Kremlin – this series offers unique insights into what life may be like in the Russian penal system.
Current Time is a 24/7 Russian-language digital and TV network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. In addition to reporting uncensored news, it is the largest provider of independent, Russian-language films to its audiences. Despite rising pressure on Current Time from the Russian government, which has designated the network a media “foreign agent,” Current Time videos were viewed more than 1.5 billion times in the 12-month period ending in September 2020 on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram/IGTV, and the largest Russian digital platforms VKontakte and Yandex.Zen.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 41 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 6.5 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2020. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.