Film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, whose film “Leto” played in competition in Cannes in 2018, was found guilty of embezzlement by a Russian court on Friday, according to news agency TASS.
Serebrennikov, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, was accused of being the leader of a group that embezzled 129 million roubles ($1.87 million) in state funds, a charge he denied. He faces up to six years in jail when the court sentences him later on Friday.
His supporters claim Serebrennikov, art director at Moscow’s avant-garde Gogol Center theater, is being persecuted for ridiculing in his work the role of the church and state in Russian society.
Producer and European Film Academy chairman, Mike Downey, said Serebrennikov “has repeatedly clashed with officials over artistic freedoms and sharply criticized the ruling elite, and is now paying the price.”
He added: “It is time now for all artists both in Russia and in the international community to stand in solidarity with Serebrennikov and defend his human rights.”
The charges against Serebrennikov and his co-defendants relate to state funds for a performing arts project called Platform. Among the accusations was the claim that one of Platform’s shows did not take place. However, the European Film Academy said Thursday that the show was staged numerous times.
“People who attended the performance posted about it on social media using the hashtag #ябылнаплатформе (‘I was at Platform’) on Facebook,” the EFA claimed in a statement. “If indeed there were financial irregularities in the accounting for the Platform project, there were other ways the authorities could have resolved them.”
The EFA added: “The state’s leap to criminal embezzlement charges seems to be a thinly veiled way to retaliate against Serebrennikov for his political criticism, and to send a chilling message to other artists, who have no choice but to accept state funding to survive as artists, to refrain from political criticism.”