Stranger says: The United States of America elected its first dictator in 2016. Since Trump took office, he's wielded power with all the cunning and foresight of a racist, rampaging baby. But imagine if he actually wanted the job. Imagine if he was, say, a well-trained CIA agent with a plan to stoke the flames of nationalism and somehow expand American imperialism even farther around the globe. Vitaly Mansky's Putin’s Witnesses gives us that opportunity. The fascinating and deeply eerie documentary, a lot of which is shot with a handheld camera, begins on New Year's Eve, 1999, when Boris Yeltsin resigned and handed the keys to former Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Mansky captures the fear that spread through many of the citizens of Russia that day—starting in his own house. Using rare footage evincing the director’s dark humor, the rest of the documentary shows how Putin grabbed power and held onto it to this day. RICH SMITH
SIFF says: Experience Vladimir Putin’s controversial rise to power in the immediate aftermath of Yeltsin’s sudden resignation through this film’s riveting treasure trove of archival material, filtered through the lens of documentarian Mansky whose camera saw everything.