“Navalny,” a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Russian dissident and one-time presidential candidate Alexei Navalny, wasn’t scheduled to screen in cinemas. But since the harrowing story has renewed timeliness amid Russia’s recent unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Warner Bros. Pictures has acquired the movie from CNN Films and plans to play the documentary in theaters across the country.
In partnership with Fathom Events, “Navalny” will premiere in more than 800 North American theaters on April 11 and 12. CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward will moderate a conversation with the filmmakers after screenings. Ward has reported extensively from Russia and Ukraine and has covered matters related to Navalny for several years.
Directed by Daniel Roher, the revealing feature “Navalny” recounts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stranger-than-fiction attempt to poison a popular opposition leader. In 2020, Navalny fell gravely ill during a flight from Siberia to Moscow. After being hospitalized in Russia, he was eventually evacuated to Berlin, where German authorities confirmed he had been poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent that disappears from the body within hours and is nearly impossible to trace. (Putin has denied any involvement.) While recovering, Navalny and his team partnered with the investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat and other international news organizations to investigate his attempted assassination and find proof of the Kremlin’s involvement, which is detailed extensively in the film.
“Alexei Navalny was just last week convicted and sentenced in Russia and cannot tell the story of what happened to him. Our film shows his tremendous courage fighting an authoritarian regime and its corruption inside Russia. I’m looking forward to the Fathom Events engagements and speaking to CNN’s Clarissa Ward. I appreciate Warner Bros. Pictures creating these experiences for theatrical audiences,” Roher said in a statement.
CNN Films and HBO Max commissioned the film, which was originally scheduled to air on CNN in North America and streaming platforms HBO Max and CNN Plus at a later, yet-to-be-determined date. CNN Films retains linear broadcast rights for “Navalny” in North America. HBO Max and CNN Plus hold streaming rights. Dogwoof represents available international rights for the film.
“Navalny” premiered at Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews and won the audience award in the U.S. documentary competition and the festival favorite award. Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman called the documentary a “must-watch.”
“[It] tells the inspiring, scary, and profoundly important story of Alexei Navalny, the vitally popular Russian opposition leader who, as a presidential candidate, became such a threat to Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin tried to poison him,” Gleiberman wrote in his review.
These days, it’s rare for a major studio to grant a wide release for a documentary, but given its timely nature, Warner Bros. wanted to make “Navalny” available to a wider audience.
“With ‘Navalny,’ we had an exceptionally rare opportunity to drop audiences into the center of a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat thriller that is not only true, but urgently unfolding, in real time, at this critical moment in history,” said Jeff Goldstein, the president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures. “Daniel Roher and his team have seamlessly combined daredevil reporting with masterful filmmaking to deliver a compelling motion picture that demands to be seen by a broad movie-going audience, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to work with our partners at CNN Films, HBO Max and Fathom Events to make that happen.”