The Canadian director of an Oscar-winning documentary about Alexei Navalny has a message for Russian President Vladimir Putin after confirmation the country's opposition leader died while serving a prison sentence in an Arctic penal colony.

“You may think you have solved a problem, but Alexei Navalny is immortal, and the world is coming,” Daniel Roher said in a video call from his Toronto home on Friday.

Roher, whose film “Navalny” won the Oscar for best documentary feature at the 2023 Academy Awards, said he was stunned by the initial reports of the prominent Putin foe's death, even though he had anticipated it.

“I'm surprised at how shocked I am,” said the Toronto-born filmmaker.

“For anyone who has followed the story of Alexei or who's seen our film, the possibility of his death, of his murder, was very apparent and very present.I still didn't think that it would happen,” he said.

“I held out hope and optimism that the end of Navalny's story would be that he gets out of prison and he is able to somehow run for office in Russia in a free and fair election, become the president and become one of the great leaders for the 21st century.”

Russia's prison agency said Navalny, who was serving a 19-year sentence, died Friday. Navalny's associates confirmed his death on Saturday, alleging he was murdered at the penal colony.

Several world leaders praised the courage of the Kremlin critic - who gained widespread recognition for his investigations into corruption among Russia's political elite - and blamed Putin and his regime for Navalny's death.

“It is a tragedy and it's something that has the entire world being reminded of exactly what a monster Putin is,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in comments broadcast on CBC.

Roher echoed Trudeau's sentiments.

“Putin wouldn't have murdered him if Navalny wasn't in a position of power and influence, and it just speaks to how frightened he is and how small he is that he would do this,” the director said.

“Navalny” is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Russian opposition leader and the events surrounding his 2020 poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent, which he blamed on the Kremlin.

Roher said he initially connected with Navalny in 2020 through Bulgarian journalist Christo Grozev, who was investigating the opposition leader's poisoning at the time. The two went to meet Navalny in Germany, where he was recovering. That's where Roher made his pitch for the documentary.

“I offered him a vision of the future where he's back in Russia, he's in prison, he needs some kind of vehicle to keep his name in the global consciousness. And I think he understood and appreciated that pitch. We started filming the next day.”

A scene from the film where Navalny gives a message to his supporters in the event of his death was widely circulated online on Friday.

“I've got something very obvious to tell you. You're not allowed to give up,” Navalny says in the clip while looking into the camera.

Roher said it was “very uncomfortable” to ask Navalny to talk about his own mortality in the film, but they both knew his death was a very real possibility.

“The propheticness of it is becoming very clear,” he said. “Those are his final words and that's his message to the world. It was certainly always my hope that that didn't have to be his final statement, but that's what the film is now.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2024.