Festivals and filmmakers grapple with the moral complexities of the call to boycott Russian films | Characteristics

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As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second month, international film festivals face complex programming dilemmas.

Denmark’s CPH:DOX, which runs from March 23 to April 3, is the first major European film event to take place since the war began on February 24. The festival reacted to the situation by adding three Ukrainian films to its program under a special sidebar. , Ukraine – A Sovereign State: by Sergei Loznitsa MaidanIryna Tsilyk The Earth is blue like an orange and Alina Gorlova This rain will never stop.

“This is our support program for Ukrainian cinema and also for the Ukrainian nation,” says Niklas Engstrom, who took over as artistic director last summer. “It is also a response to a culture war that threatens Ukraine in the sense that [Russian president Vladimir] Putin denounced Ukraine as a real nation, saying it was an artificial construct.

By showing Ukrainian films, CPH:DOX is “another little voice saying that Ukraine exists,” says Engstrom. “That’s at least one thing I think we can do as festivals.”

There have been furious calls from some Ukrainian filmmakers and producers for festivals to boycott all Russian titles, regardless of provenance. In early March, the Glasgow Film Festival dropped two Russian titles, Kirill Sokolov Without looking back and that of Lado Kvataniya Execution. Sokolov responded in the New York Times that he accepted the decision but found it “really strange…it’s like they cut our voices off”.

Balanced approach

For many festivals, excluding films for reasons other than artistic is totally against the grain.

“I don’t entirely agree with my Ukrainian colleagues, although I sympathize and fully understand their point of view,” says Engstrom. “I don’t think this is the right place to say that no Russian voice should be heard. Right now we need to hear the clear dissenting voices in Russia.

“Under normal circumstances, we would go to extreme lengths to defend the rights of anyone screening their films at the festival with no exceptions.”

While festivals like Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto have decided not to completely exclude Russian filmmakers, CPH:DOX has taken a similar approach and screens three films with anti-Putin themes: Vera Krichevskaya [email protected] this job, an Anglo-German co-production about the rise and fall of an anti-government television channel; Antoine Cattin’s exploration of Russia’s many public holidays, called Vacation; and the American feature film by Canadian director Daniel Roher and its premiere at Sundance Navalny, on the imprisoned Russian opposition leader.

“We ended up with a balanced approach, saying we’re not going to cancel Russian filmmakers as such,” Engstrom notes. “It would be absurd especially since the documentary films we screen, or many of them, would naturally be critical of Putin and the regime. We ended up saying that we would not screen films that had were supported by the Russian state.

However, CPH:DOX “deselected” a Russian title, that of Ekaterina Selenkina Detours, a hybrid film about drug trafficking, the dark web and everyday life on the streets of Moscow.

“It’s not a pro-Putin movie at all,” says Engstrom. “[The filmmakers] are good guys but they contacted us and said, “If you think the best thing to do is not to screen our film, we totally support it”. And I think, for now, this movie would just drown out. The discussion would focus on [the war] instead of talking about a great film screened by us.

As Sokolov pointed out in the New York Times, “probably 99% of Russian films receive state support”. This is why some festivals are resisting blanket bans on Russian films. Instead, they refuse to host official Russian delegations and filmmakers with direct ties to the Russian government.

full boycott

Some Ukrainian filmmakers passionately denounce what they see as this “toothless” approach, as director Roman Bondarchuk puts it. He suggests that by showing Russian films, they risk becoming “accomplices in what Russia is doing to Ukraine”.

The cruelty of feelings was underscored last week when Ukrainian Loznitsa was expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy after speaking out against the boycott of Russian filmmakers “who expose the crimes of the Putin regime”.

Loznitsa himself had resigned from the European Film Academy (EFA) because he felt that the EFA’s first statement a few days after the start of the war was too “conciliatory with Russian aggression. They didn’t even have the courage to call the war a war”.

“Russian cinema, like all Russian culture, is a powerful weapon,” says Bondarchuk, whose credits include Ukrainian sheriffs and Volcano. “Some of it is for brainwashing, propaganda, it’s internally focused [Russian] public. He created an alternate post-truth reality and 71% support for Putin’s actions [in Russia].

“Russian elite culture and cinema caters primarily to outside audiences and, by virtue of their existence, masks the medieval savagery into which Russia has slipped. This elitist culture has no effect on Russians, and therefore on real politics. Both types of culture are financed by oil money – through the state or state-associated oligarchs. »

Ukrainian festival moves to Poland

Bondarchuk is also the artistic director of the international documentary film festival Docudays UA, which moved this year’s edition to the Krakow Film Festival in Poland at the end of May due to the war. “We are very grateful that these films are seen by the public, the critics and that our jury can award the prize,” he says.

Bondarchuk says he would pull any of his films from a festival that also screens a Russian film. “If this is hybrid warfare, we can get rid of the aggressor’s most dangerous weapon, [the one] which strikes the mind.

However, he is pragmatic about what can be achieved. “We cannot demand the boycott of all films about Russia,” he concedes. “But in times of war, such films should be accompanied by annotations, immersing the audience in context so that they don’t take what they see for granted.”

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