Kirill Serebrennikov, the acclaimed Russian film and theater director whose works have been celebrated internationally but derided internally for questioning the establishment, has been convicted of embezzlement in his native country, according to reports. Prosecutors alleged that Serebrennikov, along with two other defendants, had misappropriated more than €9 million ($10.1 million) in government funding in a case that some critics say was politically motivated. A fourth defendant was involved, former government official Sophia Apfelbaum, but was convicted of negligence. The ruling took place on Friday in Moscow.
The lengthy trial dates back to 2017, when Serebrennikov was arrested, and then spent 18 months under house arrest before being released on bail. Following this latest ruling, Serebrennikov has yet to serve jail time. Outside of the courthouse, hundreds of supporters had gathered in protest, many of whom were holding signs that said “Free Kirill!”
“I came here because this trial isn’t about the money. It is a trial about creative freedom — about whether it can exist in Russia — or not at all,” theater critic Elena Pokorskaya told international news outlet DW on the scene.
“There is only government-led horror and madness here. I don’t even know where this case came from. I doubt Putin himself cares enough about Serebrennikov to come up with it,” Kinotavr Film festival founder Mark Rudenstein said.
The funding was, according to the ruling, embezzled from the Russian Culture Ministry to be used for the Platforma arts project, which is designed to support artistic works concerning refugees and their experiences’ and was managed by Serebrennikov between 2009 and 2015. Serebrennikov pled innocent to the charges.
Serebrennikov currently heads the Gogol Center, Moscow’s leading avant-garde theater, spurring more than 3,000 artists to sign a letter addressed to the Culture Ministry petitioning for the charges to be dropped. But since Serebrennikov took over in 2012, the Gogol Center has become regarded as a venue for liberally minded work that defies the Russian status quo. Serebrennikov has faced controversy in the past over his films, including 2016’s Cannes entry “The Student,” which depicts a young man’s evolution into a religious fanatic. His 2018 film “Leto,” finished while Serebrennikov was under house arrest, was a stern rebuke of Putin’s Russia.
Serebrennikov’s next project, as announced earlier this month, is a miniseries about the life of Andrei Tarkovsky, widely regarded as one of the greatest directors of all time, and a critic of the Soviet Union whose films were often met with disdain by authorities in the 1960s and ’70s.