Pussy Riot's Punk Rock Prayer Is Just Beginning, Say Doc Filmmakers

Russian punk rockers were released from jail Monday.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot speaks to the media as she leaves the prison in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013.
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Pussy Riot's Maria Aloykhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova did not welcome their release from jail with any gratitude toward Vladimir Putin's regime for this so called token of amnesty.

"I do not think it is a humanitarian act, I think it is a PR stunt," Aloykhina (also known as Masha) said by telephone interview with Russian Internet and TV channel Dozhd shortly after her release from her prison in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. "My attitude to the president has not changed."

[READ: Documentary Goes Inside Pussy Riot's Protest]

When Tolokonnikova (also known as Nadia) was released from her facility in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, hours after Aloykhina, she told reporters, "The border between being free and not free is very thin in Russia, a totalitarian state."

Their continued criticism of Putin and the Russian government does not surprise Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, the filmmakers behind this year's HBO documentary "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer."

"We're into a new phase of the revolution -- the Pussy Riot revolution stage 2," Lerner says. "Now that they're out, they and their followers can regroup and turn their attention to the many problems that need solving in Russia, as opposed to attempting to gain their own freedom."

Aloykhina, Tolokonnikova and a third Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich (who was released on appeal in October 2012) were arrested in March 2012 and convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, after a YouTube video of the group performing a punk rock song critical of the Putin regime and the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior went viral. As "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," which debuted in June, shows, over the course of their trial many Russians grew to regard Pussy Riot as a group of anti-religious performers hungry for fame. A poll after their sentencing to two years in prison found that 53 percent of Russians found the punishment to be fair.

[ALSO: Pussy Riot Receives Worldwide Attention After Prison Sentence]

Nevertheless, the international attention their trial and imprisonment drew made Pussy Riot a cause célèbre of famous musicians including Madonna, Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend of The Who.

"In a way I think Russian people will be a bit confused as to what has happened because they've been told for the past few years that these people were anti-state and anti-society and these people deserved to be in prison." Lerner says. "There's no change in the circumstances so this is the kind of benevolent dictator's whim to obviously curry favor with the international audience."

Their release comes as part of move that secured the release of nearly 2,000 prisoners -- including the "Arctic 30" Greenpeace activists who were arrested for their demonstrations against Russian oil drilling -- which many consider a PR maneuver on the part of a Russian government facing increasing international scrutiny with the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi.

"I don't think it's an amnesty, it's a profanation. I don't think the amnesty is a humanitarian act, I think it's a PR stunt. If I had a choice to refuse (the amnesty), I would," Aloykhina said after being freed. She and Tolokonnikova were three months shy of finishing their sentence.

While he is happy that they and the other prisoners were released, Lerner says "it's also depressing because it shows how of little importance these peoples lives are in the scheme of things and how they're used as pawns in a PR campaign that I hope will fail."

In the 21 months they were in jail, Aloykhina and Tolokonnikova were denied a number of appeals requests. Tolokonnikova went on a nine-day hunger strike in protest of her prison's labor conditions in September and was later moved to the Siberian prison from where she was released Monday.

"I think one of the things that happened during their year since sentencing is that by virtue of staying in prison and going through with it -- not bowing down and also stepping up to authorities, the hunger strikes, etc. -- they actually won a great deal of moral authority and a great deal of respect from people." Pozdorovkin says.