Celebrated Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky has withdrawn his latest film from the country’s prestigious White Elephant Awards amid plans to honour imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades! had been nominated in the Best Film category, just weeks after being shortlisted for the 93rd Academy Awards. Navalny and his creative team were awarded a special prize in the “Event Of The Year” category for their “groundbreaking” video investigations into state corruption.
But the 83-year-old director, who is best known for his work with Andrei Tarkovsky, said that he didn’t want his project to stand alongside Navalny’s “political’ work.
“This award is one of the most important in Russian cinematography, as recognition of the artistic values of a film by the professional community — film experts and film critics, who judge the film from the standpoint of art,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Therefore, I am sad to see that this year the nominee for the National Film Critics and Film Press Awards in the category ‘Event of the Year’ is the project of a publicist that can be assessed as a political act, but cannot receive any marks according to the criteria of cinematography.”
Navalny’s nomination has already sparked internal tensions between the award’s expert panel and the Russian Guild of Film Critics, which usually sponsors the event. The latter announced on 14 March that it would no longer back the awards, which have taken place annually since 1998: first as The Golden Ram, and then as The White Elephant Awards since 2005. “We believe that the resulting confrontation damages the reputation of the Guild, which remains hostage to the archaic irremovability of power and stagnation within the Union of Cinematographers of the Russian Federation,” the expert panel wrote in a public statement.
Konchalovsky’s brother, Nikita Mikhalkov, a staunch supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and best known for directing the Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun, has also spoken out against the decision to honour Navalny.
“I would feel uncomfortable calling myself a director if Navalny is considered a director. He has nothing to do with cinema,” Mikhalkov told Russian newspaper Sobesednik.
Published on YouTube in January 2021, Navalny’s most recent report into state corruption — an investigation on a lavish Black Sea palace allegedly built for President Vladimir Putin — has amassed more than 115m views at time of writing. A further probe into events which saw Navalny poisoned in Siberia last August, ostensibly by the Federal Security Service, has also been viewed millions of times.