Liberation: The User's Guide

Directed by Alexander Kuznetsov

80 minutes / Color
Russian / English subtitles
Release: 2016
Copyright: 2016

Residents at the Tinskoi Psychoneurological Institute in Siberia have modest dreams: to find love and have children-to live independently and pay their own bills. But many may never attain even these simple goals.

LIBERATION: THE USER'S GUIDE is a striking vérité documentary that follows the long struggle of two inmates at the institution. Like many of their fellow residents, they have spent much of their lives here-abandoned by their mothers, raised with little access to vital therapy and programs, and caught in an impersonal bureaucracy that prevents them from taking control of their own lives.

The film follows Yulia and Katia as they fight to regain their civil capacity, the legal standing that would give them independence. Well-meaning staff speak of the women, who have cognitive impairments, as though they are children (Yulia is 34) and encourage them to think positively. But nice clothes, makeup, and a good first impression are not going to earn Yulia and Katia their release.

When Katia asks a psychiatrist who barely knows her how her civil capacity could have been removed in her absence, he says, "I'm just a doctor." Meanwhile, judges tend to rely on doctors' reports in making their decisions-which they deliver in a barking monotone without ever looking the person whose fate they are ruling on in the eye.

Four years after her original application is denied, Yulia remains at the institution, a sad and faraway look in her eyes as she goes through the routines of daily life, improves her skills as a cook, and prepares to petition the court again. Heartbreakingly, Katia asks a psychologist administering cognitive tests, "Do I stand a chance?"

LIBERATION: THE USER'S GUIDE offers a rare and intimate look inside a system that imprisons people with mental illness and cognitive disabilities, forcing them to meet nearly impossibly high standards for release. "I'm so tired," Katia sighs at one point. "Why does it have to be so difficult?"?

"Highly recommended...Watching this film, it seems apparent that the main obstacle to psychiatric health is the very profession of Russian psychiatry itself, supported and strengthened by the Russian legal system." Educational Media Reviews Online

"Striking." Visions de Reel

"Highlights the absurdity of the system [and] the courage of the people who live within it." 
Nationalities Papers

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A film by Alexander Kuznetsov

Select Accolades

  • Winner, Interreligious & Jury Prizes for Most Innovative Feature Film, Visions du Reel 2016
  • Winner, Best Documentary, Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) 2016
  • Winner, John Marshall Award for Contemporary Ethnographic Media, Camden International Film Festival 2016
  • Festival Internacional de Cine Documental de Buenos Aires 2016
  • Trieste Film Festival 2016


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