The curtain falls on Russian films in Europe


“I can no longer speak in Russian to my daughter on the street,” an artist living in Rome told the Moscow Times. “And I have no hope of being invited to show my works anywhere.”

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian cultural figures have found themselves excluded from the international cultural scene.

For Russian filmmakers, the sudden change came after the Ukrainian Film Academy launched a petition in late February on calling for a full boycott of the Russian film industry. “The Council of Europe should exclude Russia from the Eurimages funding programme,” it read. “Festivals should no longer show films from the Russian Federation. Producers should suspend all contracts and no longer grant film rights to Russian distributors, and Western distributors should no longer show Russian films or include them in their programs.

Representatives of the Russian film industry immediately fell silent. “We cannot comment.” “We are very sorry, but we will not be participating.” “Please read official announcements on the situation.” These are replies to personal messages and official requests. No one wanted to be named.

The Cannes Film Festival also took a stand on the war in Ukraine and banned official Russian delegations during its 75th edition in May. However, while the festival “will not accept the presence of anyone connected to the Russian government”, it will always welcome individual filmmakers “who raise their voices to denounce violence, repression and injustices, with the main aim of defending peace and freedom. .”

Casting of “The Petrov Flu” at Cannes 2021
Christina Afanasieva

A day later, the Mostra of Venice supported the initiative of the Cannes Film Festival but affirmed that it was not going to declare a total boycott: “The Biennale is in solidarity with all those in Russia who bravely oppose the war. The festival specified that “for those who oppose the current Russian regime, they will always find a place in the exhibitions of the Biennale, from art to architecture, and in its festivals, from cinema to dance, from music in the theater”.

This is not possible for many filmmakers. The head of a Russian production company – who requested anonymity – told the Moscow Times: “How can I protest when I could be imprisoned? I have children to raise.”

The GoEast film festival, which focuses on Central and Eastern European cinema, had already made changes when Russia annexed Crimea. “Since 2014,” wrote Heleen Gerritsen, director of GoEast, “we have been firmly on the side of Ukraine. Since then, we have not invited any official Russian delegations or supporters of Russia’s occupation policies in Crimea. and in the Donbass… we still invite individual Russian and Belarusian films, but that year we cut ties with Russian media partners, sponsors and state organizations,” she said.

After the Berlin-based European Film Academy (EFA) was criticized for its “soft statements” against Russian filmmakers, it took a more radical stance and announced that it would fully support all demands for boycott in the petition presented. by the Ukrainian Film Academy which implies the exclusion of Russian cinema from all festivals. Russian films will therefore not participate in the European Film Awards this year.

The Berlin festival took a similar stance, saying it would ban official Russian state institutions and delegations as well as “regime-supporting actors” from participating in the Berlinale “as long as the Russian government waged this cruel war. against Ukraine”. But he ended the ban on Russian filmmakers, saying it would “remove a lot of critical voices”.

This may seem like an attempt at compromise, but for most Russian projects it doesn’t change anything. The Russian Ministry of Culture often supports not only major commercial blockbusters, but also independent arthouse projects. Even if producers try to attract private investors, it is often impossible to completely cut off public investments.

But even private investments are heavy for Russian filmmakers. For example, the $100 million Roman Abramovich-funded Kinoprime Foundation was heralded as a turning point in the Russian film industry when it launched at Cannes in 2019. It has helped fund arthouse films ambitious, “Petrov’s Flu” directed by Kirill Serebrennikov. Now, however, Western countries are also imposing sanctions on this source of funding.

Collateral damage

Compartment No. 6, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival last year, was pulled from a film schedule by German film company CineStar because its lead actor, Yuri Borisov, is Russian. The director, Juho Kuosmanen, is Finnish, and it was a joint production of German, Russian and Finnish companies. The actors and all the producers, including the Russian producer, have clearly spoken out against the war.

Jakob Kijas, managing director of the German film distribution company and Jamila Wenske, director of one of the production companies, Achtung Panda! were shocked by this decision. The film about a Finn and a Russian who meet on a long train journey is “an example of the common idea, both in the production process and in the artistic message”, said Wenske and Kijas. It’s also about “the power and the magic that can arise when people come together and get to know each other and have the courage to get involved and listen to each other,” they said.

The irony of this particular film being sanctioned has not been lost on them. “We condemn Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine… But we believe in the connecting factor of culture and cinema. Culture builds bridges and creates spaces for communication where others want them. destroy,” they said.


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