Ukraine Filmmakers: Report From the War, Call for Boycott of Russian Cinema

Ukraine Filmmakers Report From the War

Ukraine directors under fire renew calls for a complete cultural boycott of the aggressor nation: ‘lower the iron cultural curtain around Russia.’

The group includes feature directors Maryna Er Gorbach (Klondike), Nariman Aliev (Homeward), Valentyn Vasyanovych (Atlantis), Antonio Lukich (My Thoughts are Silent) and Roman Bondarchuk (Volcano), documentarian Alina Gorlova (This Rain will Never Stop) and producer Darya Bassel, the industry head of Ukraine non-fiction event Docudays UA.

Lukich said he left footage and materials for his new, untitled feature in Kyiv to evacuate his children from the war zone. “We’d been working on it for more than 2 and a half years,” he writes. “We filmed it in Kyiv, Lubny, and Luxembourg and we did our best…. I was unable to take the film materials to a safe place. So now we just hope they will not be destroyed. But does it matter now? Not really…. Other things matter now.”

One thing that matters, Lukich says, is for the international film community to get behind a full boycott “of Russian films and culture.”

Aliev, whose 2019 debut Homeward, which screened in Un Certain Regard in Cannes, follows a father and a son from a Crimean Tatar family transporting the body of deceased older son and brother from Kyiv to bury him in Crimea, argues that Moscow-sponsored Russian culture “has always been an instrument for legalizing all crimes committed and committed by their authorities. Russian soldiers and bombs are no different from their propaganda weapons, which may not kill people directly, but justify these atrocities or divert attention and shift the focus from the main thing. With the tacit consent of its compatriots, Russia is killing innocent people in Ukraine.”

Boycotting Russian cinema and culture at this time, he writes, “is an attempt to cleanse the world of the propaganda of a terrorist state.”

The European Film Academy said it “fully supports the call of the Ukrainian Film Academy to boycott Russian film.”

The Cannes and Venice Film Festivals have also joined the boycott, in a qualified form, with Venice saying the festival will not accept “the presence at any of its events of official delegations, institutions, or persons tied in any capacity to the Russian government” but will not ban Russian films outright. Cannes has also said it will allow Russian films but ban Russian delegates or any members of the Russian government from attending this year’s event on the Côte d’Azur in May.

Russian director Kantemir Balagov, whose critically acclaimed Beanpole made the Oscar shortlist for the 2019 best international feature, on tweeted that he had left Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. “Our hearts stand with Ukraine and Russian people who [are] against this nightmare,” he writes.


The call for a cultural boycott of Russia has extended beyond cinema, with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the wildly popular Eurovision Song Contest, announcing Feb. 24 that it was banning Russian acts from competing in this year’s event. London’s Royal Opera House has canceled the summer season of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Berlin State Opera have ended their collaboration with Russian opera star Anna Netrebko, after the singer refused to “repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin.”

The group of Ukrainian filmmakers argues anything less than a full ban on Russian works is akin to tacit support of Putin’s military aggression.

“The fact is that at all times Russia has used cultural and artistic achievements as a cover for its aggressive actions,” writes director Valentyn Vasyanovych, “it is necessary to lower the iron cultural curtain around Russia. Stop any cultural collaborations with representatives of a terrorist country that threatens to destroy the whole world.”

Until Russia “publicly acknowledges the fallacy of its actions in Ukraine or is convicted under all the laws of international law,” writes Alina Gorlova, “I consider inadmissible any representation and support of Russian cinema.”

Drawing a link between the current war and the reaction to German artists and supporters of the Nazi regime, Roman Bondarchuk writes that state-backed culture in Russia “prepared the ideological basis for this war…. After the war, when Ukraine’s existence will not be threatened by tanks and missiles, it will be possible to return to it, study it, research it and structure it. Just like nowadays, we study Leni Riefenstahl’s films or Richard Wagner’s works.”

The only justifiable support of Russian culture at the moment, Bondarchuk argues, would be a broadcast of Swan Lake, the music that “traditionally makes a change of government in Russia.”

That’s exactly what the staff at Popular Russian television channel Dozhd did last Thursday, when it suspended its operations amid pressure linked to its Putin-critical coverage of the Ukraine war.