Alex Gibney Doc 'Citizen K' Sells to Greenwich Entertainment, Will Get Oscar Push (Exclusive)

Citizen K - TIFF - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of TIFF

Citizen K, Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney's acclaimed new documentary feature about post-Soviet Russia from the perspective of oligarch-turned-political dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been acquired for North American distribution by Greenwich Entertainment and will receive a theatrical release alongside a concerted Oscar push this season, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Greenwich previously handled the theatrical release for National Geographic's Free Solo, which went on to win this year's best documentary feature Oscar. Greenwich's Ed Arentz tells THR that Gibney is "one of our best chroniclers of power and its many abuses," and calls Citizen K, which was produced by Gibney, John Battsek, P.J. Van Sandwijk, George Chignell and Erin Edeiken, "essential viewing."

Citizen K, which was financed by Amazon Studios and produced by Jigsaw Productions, Passion Pictures and Storyteller Productions, had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in August and its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival shortly after. It will next screen at the London Film Festival and AFI Fest.

Following its North American theatrical release, which will begin in Los Angeles on Nov. 22 and expand to other cities all the way into early 2020, the doc will stream on Amazon Prime three months after its theatrical debut.

The enigmatic Khodorkovsky, benefitting from the chaos that followed the dissolution of the USSR, amassed a fortune in financing and oil production and became the richest man in Russia. When he accused the new Putin regime of corruption, he was arrested, his assets were seized and, following a series of show trials, he was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. Today, as an exile living in London, Khodorkovsky continues to speak out against Putin’s two-decade stranglehold on power.

"I am delighted with the release plans for Citizen K," Gibney tells THR. "It's a vitally important moment in the U.S. — as another presidential election looms over the horizon — for Americans and people around the world to understand how power works in Russia."

Gibney, who won the best documentary feature Oscar for 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side, spoke of the challenges of making his latest documentary.

"Citizen K was difficult to make. With burner phones and computers, we spent a good deal of time in Russia, both at the center of power in Moscow, and covering thousands of miles all over the country. While we kept a low profile and used local crews, we spoke to many of those at the center of power — most were too afraid to go on the record," he explains. Gibney added that they had requested an interview with Putin after meeting his spokesman Dmitry Peskov, but the result was "no dice."

Gibney says that no country "arouses more curiosity in the United States than Russia," and hopes that his doc offers an insight into "how power works in Russia and how Putin’s authoritarian model — with official 'fake news' and a withering rule of law — is migrating to Trump’s America."

"But we got the flavor of the country and a sense of the dangers of speaking truth to power. Six characters in our film were either assassinated, victims of attempted lethal attacks or died in mysterious suicides, which may have been murders," the filmmaker relates. 

"Most disquieting of all was seeing firsthand the way Putin 'manages' what Russians call 'election theater,' a satire of democracy in which spectacle and conspiracy take the place of a truthful debate of vital issues," adds Gibney. "Power is everything. Corruption suffuses the government. And the man at the center has no shame and is accountable to no one. Sound familiar?"

THR's David Rooney said Citizen K was a "scalding portrait of Putin's Russia" in his review.