Posted: 04/27/2010


Russian Mafia Documentary, Thieves By Law, Premiers at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival


by Chris Wood

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Thieves by Law is a 90 minute documentary directed by Alexander Gentelev (The Rise and Fall of the Russian Oligarchs, 2006 (TV)) that interweaves the stories of three Russian mobsters who have become successful businessmen. It premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival on April 22, 2010.

The idea for the film came to Gentelev when he was collecting material for a film on Russian oligarchs in the mid-1990s and found that “former criminals were suddenly the presidents of banks and the owners of major corporations.” Gentelev said it left him wondering, “who is a criminal and who is now an oligarch?”

The film also chronicles the history of the Russian mob from its beginnings in the prison camps of Stalin, where “The Thieves Code” originated. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, certain elite in the Russian mafia were able to infiltrate the top political and economic strata. Among these elite are Gentelev’s three subjects: Leonid Bilunov (Macintosh), Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov (Taiwanchik), and Vitaly Dyomochka (Bondar).

The film succeeds and is interesting on two levels: (1) listening to Gentelev’s protagonists recall their involvement in the brutal goings on during the pinnacle of Russian gang violence (from 1994 to 2000 there were more than 600 gangs in Moscow alone); and (2) listening to the same subjects talk about their remarkably lucrative, successful, and even charitable lives today.

For example, Macintosh spent 18 years behind bars for armed assault and robbery by the time the Soviet Union fell. However, he currently splits time between his homes in Paris and the Rivera and has made significant contributions toward the restoration of several churches, including the Provoslavic Church in Cannes (in the film Macintosh says he is the President of the Cannes Church Society). Macintosh also claims that the reason French authorities permit him to remain in France is because he had assisted them in obtaining the release of four French human rights workers taken hostage in Chechnya.

Furthermore, the three men are charming, natural storytellers who take an appreciation in art and culture. For example, card shark and self described businessman, Taiwanchik, supports different programs in the arts, is president of Russia’s National Football Association and a business partner in a number of major casinos. And Bondar, who has served two terms in prison for robbery and murder, is shown during the documentary shooting gangster-related films and is planning to make a movie based on his experiences as a Thief By Law.

It is a bit astounding to see how candid Gentelev’s subjects are in the film, which further captivates a viewer as one wonders what these three Thieves By Law will disclose next. It can also be a tip-of-the-cap to director Gentelev, with regard to how he was able to get his three protagonists to discuss such condemning topics. Either way, Gentelev accomplishes what he said he’d set out to do: “Explain Russia to the outside world.” The film is in the World Documentary Competition at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Chris Wood Writer

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