HotDocs13: Pussy Riot—A Punk Prayer (2012)

Pussy Riot 1 There’s probably no piece of performance art in recent history that’s had as thunderous an effect as Pussy Riot’s politically charged song at the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on 21 Feb 2012. The feminist punk group made huge waves with their song denouncing the unholy union between the Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin. The government promptly arrested three of the members — Masha Alyokhina, Nadya Tolokno and Katya Samutsevich— and sentenced them to two years in a Penal Colony. Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer is the story of the three arrested members’ trial.

It many ways, Pussy Riot plays like a courtroom drama. Filmmakers Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin have unprecedented access to footage from the trial, videos of interrogations, and performances by the Pussy Riot members. This makes the film a compelling factual treatment of an appalling miscarriage of justice. We see footage of the group rehearsing for their performance at the Cathedral. After the arrest, we see the trial from all angles—news cameras, recordings from protests outside, TV interviews with Masha’s husband. We also get intimate moments with the girls in the courtroom cage, talking quietly amongst themselves as journalists snap photos and police officers tell them to shut up. The film clearly presents the absurdity of the prosecution of the group, and the delicate religious politics that the girls exploded.

Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer works wonderfully as a primer for someone who’s heard lots about the group, but never really investigated the specifics of the case. But at the same time, the courtroom drama genre is too conservative for a group as radical as Pussy Riot. Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer is informative and often engrossing, but its hardly punk.

Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer (2012, UK)

Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin.

7 out of 10