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Liberation: The User's Guide

A film by Alexander Kuznetsov

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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

Winner, Interreligious & Jury Prizes for Most Innovative Feature Film, 2016 Visions du Reel
Winner, John Marshall Award for Contemporary Ethnographic Media, 2016 Camden International Film Festival
Winner, Best Documentary, 2017 World Convention, Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN)
Nominee, 2016 European Film Awards
2017 Western Psychological Association (WPA) Annual Convention Film Festival
2016 Festival Internacional de Cine Documental de Buenos Aires
2016 Guth Gafa International Documentary Festival
2016 Human Rights Film Festival, Lithuania
2016 Seville International Film Festival
2016 Trieste Film Festival
2017 ReelAbilities Film Festival

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

For individual consumers (home video)

This title is available online from:

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
Eastern Europe, Human Rights, Psychiatry, Russia, Women's Studies

Watch the trailer:

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