17 August

17 August

    Price: $310.00

    Code: 2370

    Directed by Alexander Gutman
    2009, 63 minutes
    Purchase: $310 | Classroom Rental: $125

    Ognenny Ostrov is a small island on Lake Novozero in central Russia, about 400 kilometers north of Moscow. The lone building on the island is the infamous Prison No. OE256/5 or as it is more commonly known, "Pyatak" (literally translated as the number 5, the last digit in the name). Originally built as a monastery in 1517, it was converted into a prison in 1917 to hold the ‘enemies of the revolution.' During the 1930s and 40s it functioned as a penal colony for the victims of Stalin's purges. After Yeltsin imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1996, the prison was dedicated solely to the incarceration of the country's most dangerous criminals whose death sentences had been commuted to life sentences.

    This information is not presented in Alexander Gutman's startling documentary 17 August. Instead the film focuses on documenting one day in the life of Boris Bezotechestvo, or as the sign on his cell door reads: "Prisoner Boris Bezotechestvo. Life sentence. Article 102. Escape risk. Aggressive. Three murders." Bezotechestvo is serving his entire sentence in solitary confinement.

    Balancing the stunning island panorama that surrounds the prison, a landscape of almost spiritual beauty that recalls the best tradition of Russian cinema, with the confined, claustrophobic space of Bezotechestvo's cell, the film poignantly illustrates the loneliness and madness of a life spent in solitary.

    The inmate is seen pacing back and forth, alternately mumbling prayers to God, or himself, lamenting the mistakes of his youth, insisting that he won't go crazy (like the prisoner next door) or concluding that only a perverted mind could have imagined that the life he is leading in here is more humane than a death sentence. In between his musings, he brushes his teeth, shaves, exercises, observes a spider constructing a web, or looks at the world outside through a small, fogged up window.

    Gutman, the director of In Search of Happiness, takes the example of Bezotechestvo to outline a visionary parable of a society in decline. With a rigorous, almost monochromatic austerity, he paints a dark picture of the dissolution of the social and moral order, while offering up a troubling assessment of crime and punishment.

    Subjects & Collections

    Festivals & Awards

    * Honorary Mention by the Jury, DOK Leipzig Film Festival, 2010
    * World Premiere, Locarno International Film Festival, 2009
    * Honorary Mention by the Jury, Trieste International Film Festival, 2010
    * Winner, Best Documentary, Mumbai International Film Festival, 2010
    * Official Selection, Documenta Madrid, 2010
    * Official Selection, Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, 2010


    “Alexander Gutman’s 17 August is a revelation for every one of its sixty-three minutes… The film is at once unreservedly physical and unobtrusively metaphysical, contemplating the nature and effects of time while recording a real-world atrocity that’s all the more distressing when you remember that the American penal system has become a cutting-edge innovator in this particular form of torture.” – Cineaste

    “Highly recommended. A strange and haunting documentary… sure to stimulate interesting discussions from students in a variety of disciplines: criminal justice, sociology, Russian studies, psychology, and anthropology.” - Educational Media Reviews Online