‘Student’ Director Kirill Serebrennikov Put Under House Arrest in Russia

The Student Cannes Film Festival
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Acclaimed Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov has been put under house arrest in Russia pending trial on charges of embezzling state funds. The filmmaker, whose 2016 film “The Student” (pictured) won the Francois Chalais award in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, was arrested in St. Peterburg on Tuesday where he was shooting a new movie about Soviet singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi.

Appearing in a Moscow court Wednesday, Serebrennikov found his request to be freed on bail rejected despite character-witness statements on his behalf from a number of Russian actors and directors, including Fedor Bondarchuk. Serebrennikov pleaded innocent to the charges and told the court he needed to “finish filming a movie.”

The decision means he will not be able to return to work on his biopic of rock star Tsoi and is banned from communicating with anyone aside from close relatives and his legal team without investigators’ approval.

Serebrennikov is accused of embezzling 68 million rubles ($1.15 million) in state funds, which was intended for a theater project called “Platform,” through his nonprofit organization Seventh Studio between 2011 and 2014. The director and several employees of Seventh Studio were previously detained and questioned by investigators in May. Serebrennikov’s apartment and Moscow’s Gogol Center, where he has served as artistic director since 2012, were both searched at the time.

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Serebrennikov denies all allegations, calling them “absurd” in court. He says the funds were used to stage genuine productions. His supporters, who chanted “Freedom!” outside the court, contend that the charges against him are part of a government crackdown on artistic freedoms.

The board of the European Film Academy called on Russian authorities to release Serebrennikov immediately and to guarantee his artistic freedom.

His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 19. If convicted he could face 10 years in prison. Serebrennikov’s lawyers said they would appeal the decision.