As the Russian invasion of Ukraine rages on in a Ukranian war of resistance, and as the world recently marked the Press Freedom Day, Alliance Française in Nairobi earlier this month screened a documentary film titled [email protected] This Job!, the story of a TV company called TV Rain or Dozhd.
The director of the documentary Russian journalist and film maker Vera Krichevskaya was in Nairobi for the screening. She currently lives in exile in London
[email protected] This Job is a colourful story about the rise and fall of Dozhd, the main and last independent Russian TV channel run by the former Moscow socialite, Natalya Sindeyeva.
The TV channel, set up in 2008, was officially labelled by Moscow a ''foreign agent’’ and then completely banned on the eve of the Ukrainian invasion.
Nothing can prepare one for this searing 105-minute long film. It starts off optimistically enough on the twilight of the ‘Fat Years,’ the mid-2000s in Russia, when oil prices were doing well, the upper middle class becoming actually rich, Moscow socialites lighting up the scene like nocturnal fireworks, and investment bankers growing wealthy off the fat of the motherland.
Socialite Natalya Sindeyeva had just married her third husband, KIT Bank Head of Investment Sasha Vinokurov, whom she had incidentally met at Stamford Bridge (home of Chelsea FC, until recently owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich).
Sindeyeva had earlier in set up a successful radio station, Silver Rain, and now in her late 30s, she set up TV Rain, officially named Dozhd: The Optimism Channel.
Her husband’s bank was successful enough to bankroll her TV empire dream and TV Dozhd hired top talent, and moved to an expensive tower in up-town Moscow. But by the end of 2008, the global financial markets crashed, and her husband’s bank, KIT, melted with too.
With nobody to ''make it rain’’ anymore, TV Rain moved downtown to the first floor of an old chocolate factory, with a brothel above them on the second floor. In a moment of wry humour, the founding editor-in-chief of Dozhd TV, Mikhail Zygar, an award-winning former war correspondent quips, ''Drevneyshiye v mire professi, press i prostitusiya, soshlis’ v odnom zdanii.''(Russian for ''finally, the world’s two oldest professions, the press and prostitution, had come together in one building"). The truth is painful.
Krichevskaya, who was Sindeyeva’s business partner and chief producer, left TV Rain after a year due to what she called the station’s occasional ''over self-censorship,’’ but also because on the first anniversary of the station, Sindeyeva invited Russian President Medvedev to be guest of honour, never mind that Dozhd was supposed to be ''anti-Kremlin.’’
But by 2012, no one could claim that it wasn’t the ‘most independent TV station in all of Russia.
In the midst of heavy controls, TV Rain gained over seven million viewers, with its journalists reporting the anti ''No return of the Gremlin to the Kremlin’’ (Putin to the presidency) in 2012 from the streets, and the back of police vans after arrest.
In 2014, while covering the overthrow of then Ukrainian president and Moscow supported Viktor Yanukovich, one of the Dozhd reporters screams ''f*ck this job!’’ as he is forced to flee from clouds of tear gas and an angry mob, hence the title of the film.
But it is the Kremlin, following TV Rain’s reportage of the current events in Ukraine, that shakes Dozhd by taking them off air on the pretext of ‘’patriotism’’ after airing a programme questioning Stalin’s handling of the Wehrmacht in 1942.
Dozhd is forced to go behind a paywall and get just 60,000 subscribers.
All of TV Rain’s journalists, save two, are now exiled all over Europe, but hope to get Dozhd back online next month, according to Krichevskaya, who collated over 16 hours of footage across the years, and did the commentary on the documentary that is sweeping awards across Europe.