The Kyiv-based Molodist International Film Festival has penned an open letter to the film community calling on other festivals to join in a boycott of Russian films as a response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces.
The festival’s statement cites an ongoing effort by modern Russia to “separate culture from politics” and to “[use] that same culture to distract the West from Russia’s wars, human rights violations, censorship and persecution of political dissidents.”
“There are Russian filmmakers and intellectuals who have been truly vocal in their dissent and criticism of Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine throughout these years, and we know some of them personally,” the statement reads. “We’re confident, however, that they will understand why we call for the full boycott of Russian films until Russia’s army is out of Ukraine and its government compensates for all the damage – because these intellectuals certainly understand that they have failed in their struggle.”
The Molodist International Film Festival was forced to postpone its 51st edition on Friday due to Russia’s war against Ukraine. The event was set to unfold between May 28 and June 5.
“When you intend to give voice to Russians now, we want you to think about facing representatives of the Ukrainian film industry, festival programmers and filmmakers, and how you will look into our eyes knowing that some of our friends, family members or even some of us may not have survived this war,” the letter concludes. “Maybe then you will realize what complicity and collective responsibility is, when our voices and freedom of expression have been taken away with our lives.”
European film festivals have offered a mixture of responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Cannes Film Festival has barred Russian delegation for its upcoming edition in May. The Venice Film Festival instituted a similar ban against Russian delegations, though the organization made the distinction that Russian filmmakers will still be invited to the festival. Molodist’s statement deems such responses as “disappointingly modest, not to say toothless, statements.”
See Molodist’s complete open letter below:
We’re addressing you now, after two weeks of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, after deaths of several thousand civilians in our country, imminent or ongoing humanitarian disasters in multiple locations, two million refugees from Ukraine and immeasurable destruction of our towns and cities. As the war rages in our country, we, representatives of the cultural and creative industries, are fighting on many fronts. Our lives have been uprooted, displaced or almost entirely lost to this war, and some of us are lucky to still be alive.
We are touched and thankful to the [entirety of] Europe for its support, we know it stands for Ukraine. Amid this tragedy, we have seen great unity around the world to help our country, including our friends and colleagues who joined in helping Ukrainians fight Russia’s unforgivable aggression.
We’re not saying Putin’s, because obviously it’s not Putin himself slaughtering our compatriots, shelling houses, maternity wards and hospitals and dropping bombs on our heads, in disregard of any laws of war or even basic humanity. It’s the numerous Russians who are fighting this war in the armed forces on Ukraine’s territory and adjoining parts of Russia and Belarus, as well as those working in the (mis)information field internationally and the vast propaganda machine at home – and even more numerous common Russians who vehemently support this war. The war for the destruction of Ukraine, destabilization of Europe through the largest potential refugee crisis it has ever seen, and changing the world order. Putin now has overwhelming support in his depraved country for this aggression and for his intention to erase millions of Ukrainians.
This also concerns many people who work in culture and show business. We know this because most Ukrainians understand Russian due to our horrible past as a Russian colony – so it’s easy for us to check their news or social media to see how their movie stars and filmmakers adamantly back the “de-Nazification of Ukraine”. Moreover, many of them actually come from Ukraine or have family in this country. This hasn’t stopped any from blindly believing the Kremlin’s propaganda in complete denial of common sense. What we have also seen now is many of them saving face in view of Russia’s growing isolation by signing letters of support for Ukraine and expressing their disapproval of this invasion – a hypocritical move for many who had enjoyed the benefits of being favored by the tsar in the years before. What you, so many people in other countries, have been blind to, Ukrainians have seen long ago – the establishment of a dictatorship in Russia continuing the tradition of Stalinism, but disguised in apparent freedom of expression.
As our colleagues said in this article, “For years, modern Russia has cultivated complex narratives that separated culture from politics while using that same culture to distract the West from Russia’s wars, human rights violations, censorship, and persecution of political dissidents.” An intricate system of smoke and mirrors, so to say, to make you believe in their liberty, and admire the complex and mysterious ‘Russian soul’, oblivious that it’s a bottomless pit of despair and slavery, a culture completely different from the European values, in particular, of liberty and individualism. Which we have now seen in the monstrosities of Russia’s soldiers in our country.
Perhaps others may be more diplomatic in such an address, but we will not allow ourselves to hold back when we, our friends and loved ones, and all our compatriots are in a very real danger of losing our lives. We see disappointingly modest, not to say toothless, statements of film festivals, such as Cannes, Berlinale, San Sebastian, Venice and others, about this atrocious war – standing with Ukraine but giving so much attention to the dissenting Russians. Admiring their bravery for speaking out, when what they should be admiring is Ukrainians giving their lives for the freedom of our entire European continent. You passionately stand for the aggressor’s representatives’ right to be visible internationally, when they should be acting to change things at home. Committed to freedom of expression, you fail to understand a simple fact of giving voice to a seemingly liberal extension of the shamelessly (neo)colonial policies toward Ukraine. When all over the world many businesses and industries, including cultural ones, cut off Russia for the horror it inflicts on Ukraine once again, you choose to separate culture from politics as if that has ever been true.
For the 44th edition of Molodist in October 2014, after Russia’s occupation of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine, we created a special program of Russian films that were critical of their authorities and society, calling it “Films of Moral Resistance.” To our surprise, even some of those filmmakers cowered from this title alone, and we renamed it “Films of Moral Anxiety.” Still, several of them eventually withdrew their films. Thus we saw how free those filmmakers were. Since then, Russian films are barred from participation in Molodist.
Of course there are Russian filmmakers and intellectuals who have been truly vocal in their dissent and criticism of Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine throughout these years, and we know some of them personally. We’re confident, however, that they will understand why we call for the full boycott of Russian films until Russia’s army is out of Ukraine and its government compensates for all the damage – because these intellectuals certainly understand that they have failed in their struggle.
And when you intend to give voice to Russians now, we want you to think about facing representatives of the Ukrainian film industry, festival programmers and filmmakers, and how you will look into our eyes knowing that some of our friends, family members, or even some of us may not have survived this war. Maybe then you will realize what complicity and collective responsibility is, when our voices and freedom of expression have been taken away with our lives. At least then, ask the Russians how they feel about it.
Molodist Program Department
Igor Shestopalov, Program Director
Bohdan Zhuk, Programmer
Viktor Hlon, Programmer
Oleksandra Prokopenko, Programmer
Ruslana Sydorchuk, Programmer
Alisa Kovalenko, Programmer
Anthelme Vidaud, Program Coordinator
Maksym Voitenko, Technical Director