Taxi driver Viktor Toroptsev is an unlikely YouTube sensation, but this documentary about a man determined to change things in his country from a tiny space in his Eastern Russian apartment is more than just a curiosity.
Amursk is a dying town in Eastern Russia, geographically much closer to Tokyo or Beijing than to Moscow. Viktor Toroptsev is a taxi driver who is angry. Angry at the fact that his town is dying, that people are leaving, and that the political regime – both locally and nationally – is corrupt.
His response is to start a YouTube channel where he shares his opinions and frustrations. Initial responses are limited and contrary, but a little tech support from a blogger who supports Alexei Navalny (this is in 2019, before the activist’s poisoning and subsequent imprisonment) soon has Viktor’s subscriptions and views on the rise. The raised profile, inevitably, also puts Viktor in danger.
Julia Sergina’s documentary is her first feature and is a strong debut. Weaving together archive footage, Viktor’s own YouTube videos, and her own filming, she manages to create a portrait of an ordinary man with little education but who embraces a sense of duty and responsibility to his region and the people who live there.
Sergina sensibly keeps herself (or at least appears to) out of the documentary and leaves Viktor to solve his own problems, even when the natural humane thing to do would be to intervene and offer assistance. For although Viktor has purpose and a mission, he is also self-destructive and impulsive.
The path he is on naturally takes its toll on his health and livelihood and also impacts his family. His long-suffering wife knows him well; in her view his mission is rooted in his own childhood, losing his father at an early age and having an alcoholic mother. What he can’t seem to see is that the same fate may be happening to his own children right under his nose.
From all of the chaos which seems to follow Viktor around, however, Julia Sergina captures a wonderful moment two-thirds of the way through. Moments after we see Viktor apparently self-sabotaging an opportunity to speak out, we find that he has, unexpectedly, made his appointment. Sergina’s camera picks him out among a sea of disgruntled locals, and before long he is joined in his grievances by a host of others, who up until this point had been reluctant to protest. For this moment at least, his job is done, and Sergina allows us to watch him take it in with a steady gaze.
Finding out whether Viktor’s crusade will eventually reap success or not may require a lot longer wait than any of us has left in the face of such a dominant regime. But a few more with his energy and drive might begin to give some of them something to think about?