Cannes Film Fest 2022: Serebrennikov, Kirill, Russian–Tchaikovsky’s Wife

Kirill Semyonovich Serebrennikov (born September 7, 1969) is one of Russia’s leading theatre and cinema directors.

In 2017, he was arrested for alleged embezzlement of state funds given to the Seventh Studio. Serebrennikov spent almost 2 years under house arrest. A key witness later confessed that she made accusations under pressure from the investigators.

The international cultural community and human rights activists considered the case politically motivated as Serebrennikov was known for his liberal and LGBT-friendly stance. In June 2020, Serebrennikov was found guilty and given three years of probation, but in March 2022, the sentence was cancelled.

Jewish Origins

Serebrennikov was born in Rostov-on-Don, Russian SFSR to a Jewish father and Ukrainian mother. His father was a surgeon, while his mother was a teacher of Russian language and literature. Having graduated from Rostov State University with majors in physics in 1992. Serebrennikov had no formal theatre education prior to his stage debut in 1994.

Kirill’s grandfather Alexander Ivanovich Litvin was a film director and screenwriter, who worked at Moldova-Film (1953–1972) where he was titled an Honored Culture Worker of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.

As recalled by his mother, Serebrennikov was drawn to theater as early as kindergarten age. In the 8th grade, he established his own student theater and staged play called ‘Shadow’. Following the will of his parents, he entered the Physics department at the Rostov State University and graduated with honors in 1992, but after graduation he started working on TV.

Serebrennikov made his debut as professional director as early as in 1990. In 1998 he emerged as a film director. In 2001, he staged his first production in Moscow. Serebrennikov has staged ‘Plastilin’ at the Centre of Drama and Directing. Later he worked Moscow Chekhov Theatre, Latvian National Theatre, Theatre of Nations. He has been active in opera staging productions for the Mariinsky Theatre, and the Bolshoi Theatre, where he has also been a stage director and designer for a ballet, Komische Oper Berlin and Stuttgart Opera in Germany.

In 2006 Serebrennikov became art director of the ‘Territory’ International Festival.

Since 2008, he is a professor at the Moscow Art Theatre School, where he has a class of actors and directors.

His productions have been presented at the Wiener Festwochen, and the Avignon Theatre Festival.

His films have been screened at Cannes, Locarno, Rome, and  Warsaw Film Festivals; his film Yuri’s Day (2008) received  Grand Prix in Warsaw.

His film The Student (2016) was awarded a prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Fest.

In 2009 Serebrennikov launched the Platforma art incubator, a platform that supported theatre projects around Russia.

In 2011 Serebrennikov staged Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The Golden Cockerel’ for the Bolshoi. The play received wide acclaims and was interpreted as ‘biting satire’ on Kremlin.

In 2012, he was appointed artistic director of The Gogol Center, which evolved into the world-renowned center of liberal art. However, many peers criticized his edginess and running against the course led by Russian authorities.

For TV, Serebrennikov directed more than 100 commercials, 2 documentaries, 11 music videos and three TV series. In 2006-2007 Serebrennikov hosted ‘Drugoe Kino’ (‘Other Cinema’) TV show at the TV3 channel.

In 2007 he hosted a talk-show ‘Details (Talk Show) [ru]’ at the STS (TV channel).

In 2016 his version of the ‘Barber of Seville’ premiered at the Komische Oper Berlin.

Three plays of Serebrennikov were awarded at the Festival d’Avignon: ‘The Idiots’, ‘Dead Souls’ and ‘Outside’ (2019). In 2019 he staged ‘Nasha Alla’ (‘Our Alla’), tribute to the Russian Prima Donna Alla Pugacheva.

On May 23, 2017, Serebrennikov’s apartment and the Gogol Center facilities were raided by law enforcement agents, alleging embezzlement at the Seventh Studio. While initially no charges against Serebrennikov have been filed, Russia’s most prominent cultural figures saw the publicized raid of his apartment as political gesture, discouraging Serebrennikov and others from criticizing the government. Serebrennikov had criticised the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and has spoken out in support of Russia’s LGBT community. Vladimir Urin and Yevgeny Mironov expressed their support of Serebrennikov in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In July 2017 Serebrennikov’s premiere of the ballet ‘Nureyev’ in Bolshoi was cancelled at the last minute.

A month later, Serebrennikov was detained by the Investigative Committee of Russia, suspected of masterminding fraud scheme involving a state subsidy of almost 129 million rubles (about $1.9 million) the Seventh Studio received from the government of Russiafor the ‘Platforma’ project from 2011 to 2014. Serebrennikov has been placed under house arrest until 19 October.[31] Seventh Studio former director Yuri Itin has already been placed under house arrest since 31 May 2017. Ex-chief accountant of Seventh Studio, Nina Maslyaeva, gave confessions and has been held in custody since then. Serebrennikov refused any accusations and called the charges laughable. According to him, all the money were spent for the theater that thrived and became a world-renowned institution.[34] On August 23, 2017, hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse protesting against arrest.

The case received media coverage and was perceived as politically motivated.  Serebrennikov was hated by many officials for his views. Thirty-four prominent artists and cultural workers pledged to guarantee Serebrennikov’s bail payment. More than 3500 artists signed letter of support asking the Culture Ministry to drop charges from the director. The prosecutors asked for 6 years in prison.

During Serebrennikov’s house arrest, in December 2017 his ballet ‘Nureev’ premiered at the Bolshoi. Later, in 2018, the ballet received the ‘Benois de la Danse’ award.

The trial was called Kafkaesque in the media and unanimously perceived as a political mock by Serebrennikov supporters. Though the ‘Platform’ bookkeeping was indeed sloppy, the prosecutors tried to claim that the play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was never staged, though it was actually released, played abroad and won numerous international awards.[22][14] Key witness of prosecution Eleonora Filimonova later told the court that she was pressured and threatened by the investigators.[39] The house arrest was prolonged several times.[40] After 18 months,[19] in June 2020, Serebrennikov was convicted and given three years of probation and a three-year ban on leading any cultural institution with governmental support. He was also required to pay a fine of 800,000 roubles. Itin and Maslyaeva were also sentenced to probation.

On November 12, 2021, Serebrennikov repaid 129 mln roubles claimed as compensation by the Culture Ministry. In February 2021, Serebrennikov was fired from the Gogol Centre.

On March 28, 2022, the court canceled the suspended sentence, based on the fact that the financial damage was repaid and Serebrennikov received positive profile during his term. The travel ban was lifted and Kirill was able to leave Russia.

Serebrennikov worked even during the home arrest: he watched videos from rehearsals, recorded the comments and sent them to cast through his lawyers. He managed to release Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” in Zurich and Verdi’s “Nabucco” in Hamburg.

In 2020 his ‘Decamerone’ was shown in Berlin. In 2018 his movie Leto about Russian rock legends Viktor Tsoi and Mike Naumenko played in the main competition of the Cannes Film Fest.

In April 2021 Wagner’s “Parsifal” premiered in the Vienna State Opera.

Serebrennikov opposed 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine, which led to Bolshoi canceling his ballet Nureyev.

In March 2022 Serebrennikov was chosen to open the 76th Festival d’Avignon. His new play ‘The Black Monk’ premiered at the Festival in July 2022.

His film Petrov’s Flu (2021) received the Vulcan award for best cinematography at Cannes Film Festival.

In May 2022 Serebrennikov became the only Russian director to participate in the Cannes Film Festival with his film Tchaikovsky’s Wife.

Filmography

Undressed (1998)
Ragin (2004)
Playing the Victim (2006)[54]
Yuri’s Day (2008)
Crush: 5 Love Stories (2009)
Betrayal (2012)
The Student (2016)[55]
Leto (2018)
Petrov’s Flu (2021)
Tchaikovsky’s Wife (2022)
Limonov, the Ballad of Eddie (2023)

Television
Rostov-Papa (2001), 10 episodes
The Murderer’s Diary (2002), 12 episodes
The Golovlyov Family (2006), based on Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s eponumous novel.
Bed Stories (2003)

Awards
The Europe Prize New Theatrical Realities sponsored by European Commission (2017)
the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2018)
Person of the Year in 2018 (Association of Theatre Critics) and 2019 (GQ)