European Industry Reps Demand Release of Imprisoned Ukrainian Director

Dozens of European and German film industry reps gathered for a vigil Tuesday outside the Russian Embassy in Berlin to protest the imprisonment of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and demand his immediate release.

Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government and of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has been held by Russia for more than four years. He was convicted by a military court of terrorism in a trial described by Amnesty International as unfair.

Attendees at the vigil in Berlin held yellow signs saying “Free Oleg Sentsov.” The European Film Academy, which organized the event, issued a grave appeal: “Do not let Oleg die!”, alluding to the fact that the filmmaker has been on a hunger strike in prison since May 14.

Sentsov participated in the 2013 protests in Kiev that brought down the pro-Russian government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Several months later, in May 2014, he was arrested at his home in the Crimean city of Simferopol in May 2014 by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) following the country’s annexation of the peninsula. He was taken to Moscow and detained for more than a year before being found guilty by a military court of terrorist crimes and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Russian government authorities have dismissed calls for Sentsov’s release, saying he was justly tried and convicted.

Popular on Variety

The filmmaker has told family and friends that he is prepared to die in his effort to win the freedom of 64 Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia. Sentsov’s imprisonment and hunger strike have overshadowed the World Cup soccer tournament, which is being held in Russia. Tuesday’s somber vigil in Berlin offered a stark contrast to the city’s festive World Cup fan mile at the Brandenburg Gate, just a stone’s throw from the Russian Embassy.

“This is a silent vigil to remind people, even the people on the street but also the officials in the Russian Embassy who can see us through their windows, that the life of a citizen, of an artist, is in severe danger,” European Film Academy Director Marion Döring told Variety. “We can only hope until the last moment that he is released.”

Döring added that Sentsov’s release would ultimately depend on “high-level negotiations at the political level.”

“We are not politicians. We cannot sit down with [Vladimir] Putin and convince him to release Oleg, but we hope that through negotiations on a political level, he will be freed,” she said. “We are doing this to help people who have been denied their freedom. The Russians know this; they see it. We hope it will move Putin to release him.”

Also attending Tuesday’s vigil were Berlin Film Festival curator Thomas Hailer; filmmaker Dani Levy; actress Meret Becker (“Tatort”); actor Gustav Peter Wöhler; writer-producer Fred Breinersdorfer; and Ben Gibson, director of the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin.

“We have been on this case for many years and working closely with the European Film Academy,” said Hailer, noting that the Berlinale last year screened the documentary “The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov.”

“We have to keep it going. Oleg is a very brave man. He’s being held in a Siberian gulag, where they try to break a person’s will. He’s innocent; he hasn’t done anything. The accusations are made up.”

At the Karlovy Vary Film Festival last week, the Film Academies Network of Europe also called for Sentsov’s immediate release, saying the filmmaker was “in severe danger” owing to his hunger strike.

European Council President Donald Tusk likewise appealed for Sentsov’s release in his opening speech of the recent G-7 summit. The European Parliament and other international leaders have echoed the call.

On Monday, the Rotterdam Film Festival, which premiered Sentsov’s “Gamer” in 2012, said it would share the film on its pay-per-view streaming platform, IFFR Unleashed, and donate 100% of the revenue to supporting the filmmaker’s case.

More Film

  • Honest Candidate

    Korea Box Office: ‘Honest Candidate’ Wins Weekend as ‘Parasite’ Returns to Chart

    Opening on Wednesday (Feb. 12), comedy “Honest Candidate” topped the South Korean box office, ahead of “Little Women” and Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” which returned to the charts eight months after its original release. “Candidate” earned $6.52 million from 909,000 admissions over five days. Directed by Chang You-jeong (“Finding Mr. Destiny”), “Candidate” is the story of [...]

  • Sophia Loren

    Netflix Takes Global Rights to Sophia Loren's First Feature Film in a Decade

    Netflix has acquired global rights to drama “The Life Ahead,” which marks Sophia Loren’s return in front of the camera for a feature film after a decade. Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, “Life Ahead” sees the iconic Italian Oscar winner playing Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who forges a bond with a 12-year-old Senegalese [...]

  • The Book of Sun

    Oliver Stone to Head Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Festival Jury, Lineup Announced

    Oliver Stone will preside over the main jury of Saudi Arabia’s nascent Red Sea International Film Festival, which has unveiled its inaugural lineup. The fest will feature the Middle East premiere of Harvey Weinstein-inspired workplace abuse drama “The Assistant” amid a fresh mix of feature films and docs from Europe, the U.S., Asia and Africa [...]

  • Aerial View of Jiangxia temporary hospital

    Virus Kills Chinese Film Director and Family in Wuhan

    A Chinese film director and his entire family have died from the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Chang Kai, a film director and an external communications officer at a Hubei Film Studio subsidiary, died in hospital on Feb. 14 from the virus now called COVID-19, according to a statement from the [...]

  • Remi Bonhomme

    Marrakech Film Festival Taps Cannes Exec Remi Bonhomme as Artistic Director

    Remi Bonhomme, a leading force behind Cannes’ Critics Week, has been appointed artistic director of the Marrakech Film Festival and its industry conference, the Atlas Workshops. In recent years, Bonhomme successfully headed the Atlas Workshops, a platform dedicated to supporting the cinema of the African continent and the Arab world, where he was also part [...]

  • A Stasi Comedy

    Picture Tree Intl. Picks Up Leander Haussmann's 'A Stasi Comedy' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based Picture Tree International (PTI) has acquired global sales rights to Leander Haussmann’s highly anticipated East German laffer “A Stasi Comedy.” Set in the early 1980s, the film centers on East Germany’s infamous state security service, the Staatssicherheitsdienst or Stasi, and young agent Ludger, played by David Kross (“Balloon,” “The Reader”), who is sent to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content