Top European filmmakers urge Vladimir Putin to free Ukrainian director

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Chennai
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  • Updated: Jun 12, 2014 14:50 IST
Some of the biggest names in European cinema have petitioned the Russian President Vladimir Putin to free the Ukrainian moviemaker Oleg Sentsov. He was arrested some weeks ago and is reportedly in a Moscow jail.
Spanish master Pedro Almodovar, British giant Mike Leigh (his Mr Turner played at the recent Cannes Film Festival) and German legend Wim Wenders are among a group of moviemakers who have urged Putin to free Sentsov.
Sentsov, known for films such as Gaemer and the upcoming Rhino, has - along with many East European film directors - been a vociferous critic of Russia's repression in places like Ukraine.
Sentsov is an ethnic Russian who has been fighting for democracy in Ukraine, while strongly opposing Moscow's annexation of Crimea earlier this year.
Last month at Cannes, I saw Sergi Loznitsa's (another respected Ukraine director) premiere his Maidan, an observational documentary he had shot over a three-month period in what is known as Kiev's (capital of Ukraine) "democracy square" - which probably is a take-off from London's Hyde Park, where a corner is available for anybody to say anything. I have seen men and women shout their lungs out there, sometimes most abusively. Call it the freedom of thought and speech!
After screening Maidan, Loznitsa implored the audience to pray for Sentsov.
Cannes has always been in the forefront of such campaigns for the liberty of moviemakers. The festival has been fighting for freeing the remarkable Iranian director, Jafer Panahi, from a six-year house arrest he is now serving. It began in 2010, and he has also been banned from any film activity for 20 years!
Despite this, Panahi dared to make This is Not a Film and have it smuggled out of Iran and into the festival, which programmed it at the last minute as a surprise movie in 2011.
Of course, Panahi and Sentsov are not alone. China too is extremely harsh on those directors who refuse to toe the official line. So is Thailand. I wrote about the fate of a Thai work on this website earlier.
And India has its own ways of dealing with those helmers whose works may be critical of a strain of thought - and not necessarily that of the government alone. It could be that of a political or a quasi-political organisation. We have seen several instances of this.
There is also the Indian Central Board of Film Certification, whose censorship rules can sometimes be vexing. Many years ago, Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool was censored so brutally before being shown in India that there was nothing left of the movie (I had watched it at Cannes).
Recently, Woody Allen refused to allow his Blue Jasmine to be screened in India, because he said he could not let the warning against cigarette smoking  be inserted in the frames.

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