Ukrainian filmmakers and executives more accustomed to attending film festivals and markets are now bearing arms – and joining the battle to protect their country from the invading Russian army. Other producers hide with their families in makeshift bunkers as the Russian army closes in.
Talk to Screen Today (25 February), producer Volodymyr Yatsenko, president of the Ukrainian Film Industry Association (FIAU) who until recently attended Eurimages meetings on behalf of his country, said he would return tomorrow in Kiev to fight. He had left town with his pregnant wife and children to ensure their safety. Now he is on his way back.
“We all know that Russia is no longer hiding it,” he said. “They would like to get their land back. I know a lot of Europeans don’t understand this but they certainly won’t stop in Ukraine. Imagine that Ukraine falls. The next ones will be Poland and the Baltic countries.
“What we really need from Europe is help with lethal weapons,” he continued. “We cannot protect ourselves. From our point of view, it seems that all of Europe remains uninvolved, just watching how they [the Russians] kill us. They say “Our deepest condolences”, but that’s just bullshit. If you really want to help us, give us something to protect us [with].”
Yatsenko, 44, has no military training but said he had no choice but to take up arms. “Now people just give Kalashnikovs on the street to anyone who wants to protect [the country].”
The producer calculated that around 25% of FIAU members are also joining the fight against the Russian invaders. He revealed that teams of documentary filmmakers were trying to shoot short films chronicling what is happening on the streets during the invasion.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who spent five years in a Russian prison following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, was said by Yatsenko “to have also joined the fight”.
Fellow filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, speaking from Vilnius in Lithuania, said Screen the Ukrainian authorities distribute weapons to whoever “wishes to participate in this territorial defense… Anyone who wishes can be armed; they can receive ammunition. They have already distributed millions of weapons.
Speaking from Turkey, Ukrainian producer and European Producers Club member Olena Yershova of Tato Film called on the European film industry for “practical support”.
She and others are asking for financial and humanitarian aid, weapons and equipment for Ukraine.
Russian filmmakers “muzzled”
Although the Union of Filmmakers and Professional Film Organizations and Associations of Russia (known as KinoSoyuz) called for an immediate end to the invasion, other Russian filmmakers and agencies remained very quiet today.
According to a Russian source, they were “muzzled”. The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Media (Roskomnadzor) reportedly sent a letter stating that only “official information” from “Russian official sources can be considered correct and accurate”.
The letter asks members of the arts and media to stay out of the debate over the invasion of Ukraine. It is suggested that anyone who fails to comply with the letter’s recommendations “may be charged with treason against Russia”.
However, Yatsenko said he was contacted by Russian cinematographer and director Roman Vasyanov (whose credits include suicide squad and Fury) with an offer of help, although other Russian filmmakers remained silent.
UK trip to Russia postponed
In the UK, a British film, TV and games delegation that had planned to visit Russia has now been postponed. It was led by producer David P Kelly with Neil Peplow, director of industry and international affairs at the British Film Institute (BFI).
“We hoped to meet in Cannes [with Russian film promotion agency Roskino] and really try to tie it up to get a British trade mission there [to Russia] either late 2022 or early 2023, but due to the current situation everything has been put on hold,” Kelly confirmed.
“The UK is still very keen to work with the Russian film and TV industry, but we just can’t [during the Ukraine crisis].”