Denis Ivanov, the Ukrainian producer whose credits include films with Oleg Sentsov and Sergei Loznitsa, has penned an open letter while fighting on the front line of the war backing the proposed boycott of Russian cinema. Read it in full below.
“This war of aggression by the Russians has turned into a war on independence and a war for values and rights.. In these circumstances, I sincerely wonder about the position, that I endlessly read about in the press and online that: “culture is out of politics”, “we have to hear opposition voices”, “boycott will put limits to artistic expression”,” writes Ivanov.
“The best Russian filmmakers can do now is to refuse to represent their country in international events and make a statement about it. This act of solidarity would be the most clear and eloquent anti-war message to the world and Ukrainians than their statements in social media that they are “against war”. It’s not the right time for red carpets for our dear Russian colleagues,” he adds.
Ivanov has signed up as a volunteer with the Ukrainian army and is fighting in Kyiv, according to a source, echoing the actions of many high-profile Ukrainian figures.
First proposed by the Ukrainian Film Academy, the idea of a boycott has had supporters and detractors this week.
In the supporting camp, the European Film Academy has said it will not accept Russian films into the European Film Awards this year, and festivals including Stockholm and Glasgow have moved to not allow Russian movies into their programs.
On the other, Loznitsa has publicly stated that he does not support a boycott and that many of his colleagues in the Russian industry are also victims of Putin’s aggression.
Major festivals including Venice, Cannes and Locarno have distanced themselves from the idea of a boycott.
Venice released a statement yesterday saying it would “reject any collaboration” with those who support the regime, but would not “shut its doors to those who defend freedom of expression”.
Cannes did not specifically address the subject of programming Russian movies, only saying it would not welcome “Russian delegations this year”, while Locarno stated it “does not intend to boycott Russian films”.
The nuance of this situation is still being figured out by many. There is clear appetite to put any conceivable pressure on the Russian regime, echoing sanctions that governments are enacting, but the idea of punishing Russian filmmakers who have consistently spoken against Putin’s actions is seen by some as unjust.
As Ivanov points out in his letter, it is tricky to separate the two, as a lot of Russian films and Russian production companies benefit from some form of state backing.
He also suggests that even cinema that appears critical of the Russian regime can serve to further Putin’s agenda by “falsely showing that Russia is part of the so-called civilized world”.
Here’s Ivanov’s letter in full:
An Open Letter
The Boycott of Russian Cinema and Culture
I think some festival selectors, film professionals and cultural managers just do not get what is happening in Ukraine. This war of aggression by the Russians has turned into a war on independence and a war for values and rights. It is, first of all, the genocide of Ukrainians. And you can follow it almost live online via news outlets and social media.
Up until yesterday, missile attacks took place in civilian buildings, kindergartens, hospitals, and schools. Around 600 thousand Ukrainians already flew to Europe, more than 2000 Ukrainian civilians were reported dead and dozens of children are among them.
These are war crimes.
In these circumstances, I sincerely wonder about the position, that I endlessly read about in the press and online that: “culture is out of politics”, “we have to hear opposition voices”, “boycott will put limits to artistic expression”.
Russian cinema is funded by the Russian State and most of the films are supported by the Russian Ministry of culture or state-backed Cinema Fund. That means that at the beginning of each film there will be their logos. Logos of the State, responsible for the genocide of Ukrainians.
Films that are made out of the state financing system are financed by funds of oligarchs, like Roman Abramovich’s fund KINOPRIME. These oligarchs became rich because they were and mainly are close to power. They helped Mr. Putin to get his influence and agreed with the actions of his regime. They are using their funds for cinema support to clean their reputation in the West.
Most of the Russian “opposition” directors can work only because they were allowed to work by Putin’s regime. They have their roles in the play, written and directed in Kremlin. Presentation of their work at film festivals has the only aim – to falsely show that Russia is part of the so-called civilized world. Inside Russia, each participation of a film in the film festival would be a sign that “business as usual” is possible, even in the times of mass murder of Ukrainian civilians.
The best Russian filmmakers can do now is to refuse to represent their country in international events and make a statement about it. This act of solidarity would be the most clear and eloquent anti-war message to the world and Ukrainians than their statements in social media that they are “against war”. It’s not the right time for red carpets for our dear Russian colleagues.
Ukrainian film professionals have now gone to the army, or are helping as volunteers, or taking cover from Russian missiles in shelters, or evacuating their families from the war zone.
Their “artistic expression” is limited by these circumstances. On behalf of them, I’m asking for support of our boycott of Russian cinema at all international film events and all international organizations until Russian government will end up in Hague.
No more “business as usual” with Putin’s Russia.