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Ukrainian Director Condemns Russia, but Defends Russian Filmmakers from European Film Academy Expulsion

Russian films will not be considered for this year's European Film Awards following news yesterday that director Sergei Loznitsa dropped out of the organization.

Sergei Loznitsa

Sergei Loznitsa

Sputnik via AP

Update March 1: Following the European Film Academy (EFA) decision earlier today to exclude Russia from the 2022 European Film Awards, the Ukrainian director who initially protested inaction from the EFA, Sergei Loznitsa, is now saying that Russian filmmakers themselves shouldn’t be targeted.

“When I hear today these calls to ban Russian films, I think of these (filmmakers) who are good people. They are victims as we are of this aggression,” Loznitsa said in a statement obtained by Variety.

“On February 2022, as the Russian soldiers had just started invading Ukraine, the very first message I received was from my friend Viktor Kossakovski, a Russian filmmaker who said, ‘Forgive me. This is a catastrophe. I’m so ashamed.’ Then later that day, Andrey Zvyagintsev, who is still weakened by a long illness, recorded his message in a video,” said Loznitsa.

“What is happening before our eyes is horrible, but I’m asking you to not fall into craziness. We must not judge people based on their passports. We can judge them on their acts. A passport is tied to the place we happen to be born, whereas an act is that a human being does willingly.”

Update March 1: The European Film Academy (EFA) issued a statement on March 1 that officially excluded Russia from the 2022 European Film Awards.

“The Academy strongly condemns the war started by Russia — Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory must be respected,” a statement shared with IndieWire said. “Putin’s actions are atrocious and totally unacceptable, and we strongly condemn them.”

The letter continues, “What concerns us most is the fate of the Ukrainians, and our hearts are with the Ukrainian filmmaking community. We are fully aware that several of our members are fighting with arms against the aggressor. The Academy will therefore exclude Russian films from this year’s European Film Awards and we lend our support to each element of the boycott.”

The EFA also acknowledged that “this reaction should have come at an earlier point,” per director Sergei Loznitsa’s criticisms over the EFA’s initial response.

“But our democratic processes needed to be followed,” the EFA clarified. “Whilst those took place, the European Film Academy has, in parallel and working quietly behind the scenes, managed to raise funds and put together support structures.”

The EFA concluded, “We therefore take this opportunity to unequivocally express our protest against this abominable war and to re-confirm and reiterate our complete and total solidarity with the heroic people of Ukraine.”

Published February 28: Director Sergei Loznitsa has slammed the European Film Academy (EFA) for its response to Russia invading Ukraine.

Loznitsa voiced his criticisms in an open letter published February 28 on Screen Daily, before quitting the Academy.

“What a shameful text has been generated by the European Film Academy! ‘The invasion in Ukraine is heavily worrying us,'” Loznitsa wrote, quoting an email that EFA director Matthijs Wouter Knol previously sent to The Hollywood Reporter on February 24. “You state in your address that there are 61 Ukrainian members among your ranks. Well, as of today, there are only 60 of them. I don’t need you ‘being alert and staying in touch with me,’ thank you very much!”

The EFA previously issued a statement: “On behalf of the community of over 4,200 members of the European Film Academy, we want to express our solidarity with you.”

European cinema “has always been shaped by important values [of] human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, and human rights,” the EFA added. “As an Academy and through our work, we strongly advocate for these values and protest any violation [of them]. Rest assured we stand behind you, supporting your work in the best way we can.”

EFA chairman Mike Downey told The Hollywood Reporter in an email February 24 that while “moral outrage is called for” following Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, it’s “not that helpful at this point in time.” Downey added, “It’s a bit too soon to respond with action, but we are watching the situation with our board, as well as colleagues in border countries like Poland to see how we can all work together to provide practical support for any Ukrainian filmmakers who may be in need of it.”

In his open letter, “Donbass” director Loznitsa condemned the lax response from EFA, writing, “For four days in a row now, the Russian army has been devastating Ukrainian cities and villages, killing Ukrainian citizens. Is it really possible that you — humanists, human rights and dignity advocates, champions of freedom and democracy — are afraid to call a war a war, to condemn barbarity and voice your protest?”

Loznitsa continued that “there can be no more doubt about one thing: the European Film Academy was set up in 1989 in order to bury its head in the sand and to shy away from the catastrophe which is taking place in Europe.”

Loznitsa recently told IndieWire that “as far as Ukrainians are concerned, the war has been going for eight years already. In a way, psychologically, Ukrainians have become almost used to this situation of living in a potentially dangerous wartime condition.”

Loznitsa’s 2018 film “Donbass,” which represented Ukraine in the International Feature Oscar race (it didn’t crack the top five), featured a series of 13 vignettes involving the corruption and suffering at the root of daily life in Ukraine. A prologue includes actors hired to provide fake news testimony after bombings, with families rushing to bomb shelters and a Ukrainian POW attacked by separatists.

“The nature of the conflict has nothing to do with nationality,” Loznitsa said. “It’s Soviet versus anti-Soviet, not Russia versus Ukraine. It’s really about the conflict between past and present. Now, finally, everybody sees it.”

Loznitsa also offers a glimpse at what the world will look like if Putin succeeds: “People will be subjected to the same kind of corruption — moral and mental alike — as they did during the Iron Curtain,” the director said. “The most important thing that happens during these times is what happens to people’s morals, as they become comfortable doing evil things, just like what the authorities are doing to them.”

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