Russian Ark director urges Putin to free political prisoners

Russian Ark director urges Putin to free political prisoners
Still from Russian Ark (2002)

2 June 2014
Text Nadia Beard

Russian film director Alexander Sokurov used the opening ceremony of the Sochi film festival Kinotavr yesterday to deliver a political message to President Vladimir Putin, urging him to release the country’s political prisoners. Sokurov, director of award-winning films such as Russian Ark and Faust, made his appeal in a short speech given after he was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the ceremony.

He said: “So many people are deprived freedom in our country. There always were, are and will be people who will protect the interests of democracy in our country, which is now in an unhealthy state. If I had my way, I would address the president and say: ‘Mr President, free all those who are imprisoned!’”

An outspoken critic on social and political issues, earlier this year Sokurov penned an open letter to Putin, lambasting Russian state television while defending independent news channel Rain TV, which came under threat of closure earlier this year.

Providing a counterpoint to Sokurov’s appeal, director Nikita Mikhalkov, who has a string of blockbusters to his name, sent in a video message to the festival in which he urged the citizens of Odessa to prove their Russianness by fighting banderovtsy — a derogatory term for Ukrainian nationalists, derived from the name of 1940s Ukrainian leader Stepan Bandera, and a possible allusion to the current Kiev government.

The message, which saw the director challenge Russian residents of Odessa to fight the authorities “without expecting support from Russia”, has caused outrage from a number of producers and directors, with Berlin-based Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa arguing that the message should be paid “no heed”.

The festival’s line-up features a number of veteran and debut film directors, with the jury headed by award-winning Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev.