The Moscow Trials

Festival of German Film – Special Jury Award 2014


Cinema Documentary, Germany 2014, 86’

In the summer of 2012, when the punk activists of Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in a penal colony for their performance in the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the world reacted with widespread protest rallies. Yet this was only the latest episode in a ten-year series of show trials of artists and dissidents, staged by Putin’s system to prevent any form of democratic change.

Rau thematises this issue by drawing on the techniques of political theatre: from March 1 to 3, 2013, a courtroom was set up at the Moscow Sakharov Center to provide a stage for a threeday show trial that pitted the different sides of the cultural war waged in Russia against each other. Yet the people on stage were no professional thespians but real-life actors: artists, politicians, church leaders, real lawyers and a real judge. A jury composed of seven Moscow citizens finally handed down their sentence – an acquittal, albeit by a narrow margin, for the artists.

The 3-day-trial, stormed by the Russian authorities and by units of the cosacks, led to an international scandal and a travel ban against the director Milo Rau. The film “The Moscow Trials” documents the project and illuminates the historical and political backgrounds.


“As I sat in the audience, tweeting the action, I realized I was reporting the pretend trial the same way I would report a real one. I found myself paying close attention to the rhetoric used by the prosecution, which was being represented by one young lawyer and one actual prominent Russian Orthodox television personality. With the immigration police in the hall and the Cossacks just outside and ready to pounce, the words spoken by these people could have real-life consequences.” New York Times

"A rare piece of hyperrealistic documentary theater.“ Tagesspiegel

Written & directed by Milo Rau

DoP – Markus Tomsche

Sound – Jens Baudisch

Editor – Lena Rem

Producers – Arne Birkenstock, Jens Dietrich, Milo Rau

Funded by Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien BKM

A Fruitmarket Arts & Media production in co-production with IIPM - International Institute of Political Murder

Distributed by Real Fiction Filmverleih