‘Donbass’ Producer Denis Ivanov Slams Support for Russian Filmmakers: ‘No More Business as Usual With Putin’s Russia’

Denis Ivanov, the Ukrainian producer of critically acclaimed films including Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s “The Tribe,” Sergey Loznitsa’s “Donbass” and Oleh Sentsov’s “Rhino,” has penned an impassioned letter against Russia’s war in Ukraine, describing it as a “genocide against Ukrainians” and accusing the Russian military of war crimes.

In the letter, Ivanov gave his full-throated support to a boycott on Russian films, demanding “no more ‘business as usual’ with Putin’s Russia.”

“I think some festival selectors, film professionals and cultural managers just do not get what is happening in Ukraine,” he wrote, in light of an ongoing campaign by the Russian military that has escalated in recent days. “This war of aggression by the Russians has turned into a war on independence and a war for values and rights. It is, first of all, the genocide of Ukrainians.

“In these circumstances, I sincerely wonder about the position, that I endlessly read about in the press and online, that: ‘culture is out of politics,’ ‘we have to hear opposition voices,’ ‘boycott will put limits to artistic expression,’” he added.

Calls for an international boycott of Russian films have gathered momentum in recent days, with the Stockholm Film Festival announcing that it would not be screening any Russian state-funded films at this year’s festival “as long as the current war is ongoing,” and the Glasgow Film Festival adding it had withdrawn two Russian titles from its 2022 program, maintaining that the decision was “not a reflection on the views and opinions of the makers of these titles…[but] that it would be inappropriate to proceed as normal with these screenings in the current circumstances.”

Other European festivals, however, have been more circumspect. The Cannes Film Festival announced that it would not welcome “official Russian delegations nor accept the presence of anyone linked to the Russian government,” leaving the door open for participation from individual Russian filmmakers. The Venice Biennale echoed that sentiment, noting that the Venice Film Festival would ban official delegations from Russia but “will not close the door to those who defend freedom of expression and demonstrate against the ignoble and unacceptable decision to attack a sovereign state and its defenseless population.”

Russian filmmakers and their European supporters have spoken out against blanket boycotts, stressing that any moves to shut out Russian cinema from international events are “silencing the Russian protest voice,” according to one veteran producer.

Ivanov, however, underscored that Russia’s film industry, which benefits heavily from state financing, existed both explicitly and implicitly with the Kremlin’s backing.

“Most of the Russian ‘opposition’ directors can work only because they were allowed to work by Putin’s regime. They have their roles in the play, written and directed in Kremlin,” he wrote. “Presentation of their work at film festivals has the only aim — to falsely show that Russia is part of the so-called civilized world. Inside Russia, each participation of a film in the film festival would be a sign that ‘business as usual’ is possible, even in the times of mass murder of Ukrainian civilians.”

Rather than object to cultural boycotts, Ivanov called on Russian filmmakers to “refuse to represent their country in international events and make a statement about it. This act of solidarity would be the most clear and eloquent anti-war message to the world and Ukrainians than their statements in social media that they are ‘against war.’ It’s not the right time for red carpets for our dear Russian colleagues.”

Ivanov wrote to Variety on Wednesday night from his home some 20 miles outside the Ukrainian capital, where he had evacuated his girlfriend and daughter and was “volunteering for the Ukrainian army and locals…to help my country to resist.”

In his open letter, he noted that he was not alone: “Ukrainian film professionals have now gone to the army, or are helping as volunteers, or taking cover from Russian missiles in shelters, or evacuating their families from the war zone.”

The “artistic expression” of Russian filmmakers, he added, was a minor consideration in the face of the sacrifices being made by his Ukrainian colleagues. “On behalf of them, I’m asking for support of our boycott of Russian cinema at all international film events and all international organizations until Russian government will end up in Hague.”

The full text of Ivanov’s letter can be found below:

An Open Letter
The Boycott of Russian Cinema and Culture

I think some festival selectors, film professionals and cultural managers just do not get what is happening in Ukraine. This war of aggression by the Russians has turned into a war on independence and a war for values and rights. It is, first of all, the genocide of Ukrainians. And you can follow it almost live online via news outlets and social media.

Up until yesterday, missile attacks took place in civilian buildings, kindergartens, hospitals, and schools. Around 600 thousand Ukrainians already flew to Europe, more than 2000 Ukrainian civilians were reported dead and dozens of children are among them.

These are war crimes.

In these circumstances, I sincerely wonder about the position, that I endlessly read about in the press and online that: “culture is out of politics,” “we have to hear opposition voices,” “boycott will put limits to artistic expression.”

Russian cinema is funded by the Russian State and most of the films are supported by the Russian Ministry of culture or state-backed Cinema Fund. That means that at the beginning of each film there will be their logos. Logos of the State, responsible for the genocide of Ukrainians.

Films that are made out of the state financing system are financed by funds of oligarchs, like Roman Abramovich’s fund Kinoprime. These oligarchs became rich because they were and mainly are close to power. They helped Mr. Putin to get his influence and agreed with the actions of his regime. They are using their funds for cinema support to clean their reputation in the West.

Most of the Russian “opposition” directors can work only because they were allowed to work by Putin’s regime. They have their roles in the play, written and directed in Kremlin. Presentation of their work at film festivals has the only aim – to falsely show that Russia is part of the so-called civilized world. Inside Russia, each participation of a film in the film festival would be a sign that “business as usual” is possible, even in the times of mass murder of Ukrainian civilians.

The best Russian filmmakers can do now is to refuse to represent their country in international events and make a statement about it. This act of solidarity would be the most clear and eloquent anti-war message to the world and Ukrainians than their statements in social media that they are “against war”. It’s not the right time for red carpets for our dear Russian colleagues.

Ukrainian film professionals have now gone to the army, or are helping as volunteers, or taking cover from Russian missiles in shelters, or evacuating their families from the war zone.

Their “artistic expression” is limited by these circumstances. On behalf of them, I’m asking for support of our boycott of Russian cinema at all international film events and all international organizations until Russian government will end up in Hague.

No more “business as usual” with Putin’s Russia.

Denis Ivanov

(Pictured: Ivanov at the Kyiv premiere of “Rhino” two weeks ago)

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