Ukrainian filmmakers renew call to boycott Russian films

Ukrainian filmmakers and producers discussed the act of resisting war through images during an online conversation Thursday at the international documentary film festival Visions du Réel.

The jury consisted of producer Illia Gladshtein and director Nadia Parfan, whose film Heat Singers screened at the festival in 2019, Maksim Nakonechnyi, whose debut film Butterfly Vision will be screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section next month, and Photographer and director Artem Iurchenko (“Cursed Days”, 2018).

Nakonechnyi has been filming in Ukraine since the first days of the war, and Parfan returned from an artist’s residence in Egypt after the Russian invasion to document what was happening in her country. Iurchenko, who lives in Paris, has been driving his car around Europe since the beginning of the war, transporting refugees, equipment, medical and humanitarian aid in and out of Ukraine. A monumental print of his photograph of a Ukrainian refugee child was unfurled by French artist JR in Lviv’s main square in mid-March in honor of war-affected children.

Much of the online debate revolved around what panellists describe as Russia’s post-colonial narrative.

“This is a war of censorship, a very graphic post-truth war, in which the enemy side has its own truth that it has dreamed up for a long time,” Nakonechnyi said. “It’s not just a war of guns, but of narratives and ideas. That is why people who create censors are the biggest enemies of Russia.”

Asked if images are the “tools of war,” as US cinematographer Kirsten Johnson put it earlier in the day during a master class at the festival, Nakonechnyi replied: “They are one of the most important tools – images and words naturally. It is not the images themselves, but the meaning given to these images and how they are presented. Pictures and guns don’t kill, you need someone to start killing. But yes, images are a big part of war, they always have been, and more so than ever.”

According to Gladshtein, the fight is directed against “colonization that seems normal in the eyes of the people of Western Europe”. He urged Western audiences to wake up to what he called “the filter in your eyes,” which he felt was shaped by the Russian narrative of former Soviet territory.

“I did some research and collected a number of films produced for internal use in Russia that portray Ukrainians as evil, stupid, greedy, traitors and Nazis. This is part of the whole universe of images produced by the Russian media, including festival films, which have been widely circulated,” he said. “That is why the Ukrainian film industry is demanding a boycott of Russian films. Not because we are offended and want Russian voices to be silenced, but because it is a weapon of war that did not start on February 24, but has been going on for years.”

Parfan repeated these thoughts. “This is not the first Russian colonial war, there is a long history of Russian aggression,” she said, referring to the Chechnya conflict. “The war in Ukraine started in 2014, but the EU community, North American governments and cultural institutions did not recognize it,” she continued, adding that the problem is that Ukraine is not owned by the international community, but in general recognized as a sovereign nation is considered a post-Soviet satellite.

She expressed regret that Russian filmmakers who “for years have benefited from this colonial position and got slots at A-class festivals” did not raise their voice to draw attention to the situation.

“It may seem radical from Europe’s perspective, but it’s essential: I’m just trying to explain the power dynamics that have existed for years. Therefore, now is the time to impose a temporary moratorium and to reconsider the role of Russian culture in this war,” Parvan said, adding that she was grateful to Visions du Réel for the careful selection over the years. “You are the reason I still do this.”

The 53rd edition of Visions du Réel, which ends in Nyon on April 17, included both Russian and Ukrainian films in and out of competition. Ukrainian filmmakers renew call to boycott Russian films

Charles Jones

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