Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, an activist who spent five years in a Russian jail for speaking out about the annexation of Crimea, released an emotional statement on Thursday calling for the boycott of Russian films.
Many upcoming films, including Warner Bros. The Batman reboot with Robert Pattinson, have already canceled their Russian premieres, and on Wednesday the Glasglow Film Festival removed two Kremlin-produced films from competition. Film festivals in Cannes and Venice have also agreed to block films with ties to the Russian state, such as No Looking Back and The Execution, after the Ukrainian Film Academy pleaded to the arts world for solidarity.
On Thursday, Oleg Sentsov took matters a step further, and wrote that there should be a total boycott of Russian films “in all dimensions.”
Oleg Sentsov’s last film, a crime drama titled Rhino, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2021. It was released after major delay since Amnesty International had to fight with Russian courts against his unjust imprisonment. Securing his release after five years in a Russian jail, Sentsov avoided his 20-year sentence for criticizing the government, where courts denied his Ukrainian citizenship.
“In 2014, I was unlawfully imprisoned in Russia and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for fighting against the Putin regime and annexation of Crimea,” he wrote in an emotional statement from the frontlines of fighting in Kyiv, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Back then, the whole film industry stood up to support me, and I am immensely grateful for it” he continued. “Now I’m asking you to support my country.”
“My motherland is mercilessly shelled from the land, sea and air. Russian bombs are falling on Ukrainian children. Millions are sitting in bomb shelters. Millions are suffering from being cold and lacking food,” Oleg Sentsov wrote. “My country is being ruined, but our spirit is strong. We are going to fight until our victory.”
Other Ukrainian filmmakers, such as Valentyn Vasyanovych, Anna Machukh, Natalka Vorozhbyt, Iryna Tsilyk, and Nariman Aliev, have since echoed his call, including Klondike director Maryna Er Gorbach.
“For this, we need your support. The support of intellectuals and artists who oppose Putin’s bloody regime. People who value human life more than anything. I request your support for the boycott of Russian cinematography in all dimensions, including film cooperation: co-production, distribution and festivals, as requested by the Ukrainian Film Academy,” Sentsov pleaded. “Please sign the petition! Stand with Ukraine! We will stop Putin together!”
Not everyone agrees with Oleg Sentsov, however, as the award-winning Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa stated that he was against the Russian boycott.
In a letter sent to Variety, Loznitsa argued that the filmmakers were “good people,” and “victims as we are of this aggression.”
He previously gave up his membership in the European Film Academy after taking offense to a statement made by the organization that was too light on Russia during the Ukrainian invasion, but stated that filmmakers should not punished for their government’s actions that are beyond their control.
“What is happening before our eyes if horrible, but I’m asking you to not fall into craziness. We must not judge people based on their passports. We can judge them on their acts,” he wrote. “A passport is tied to the place we happen to be born, whereas an act is that a human being does willingly.”
Sergei Liznitsa and Oleg Sentsov appealed for peace back in February as Russian forces amassed on the Ukrainian border, urging world leaders to act before an invasion occurred.
“Today, Ukraine needs peace more than ever,” they said in a joint statement. “The constant discussions that the war will start almost tomorrow are alarming for us.”