UPDATE, 9:04 AM: Earlier this month, film director Oleg Sentsov’s defense caught what looked like a break when a key prosecution witness retracted his testimony, saying it had been given under duress — yet the trial is due to resume tomorrow after a pause in the proceedings. Detained for more than a year, the Ukrainian helmer has been on trial in Russia since late July on charges of terrorism, organization of a terrorist group and arms trafficking. He was originally arrested in May 2014 after protesting Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Facing 20 years in prison, Sentsov today received the renewed support of a group of internationally renowned filmmakers. The Board of the European Film Academy has called for his immediate release, sending a letter to the Russian authorities that has been siged by Stephen Daldry, Mike Leigh and Wim Wenders. The Polish Film Academy has also joined the campaign, with 2015 Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski among the signatories.

The filmmakers again say they have been “deeply worried” since Sentsov’s arrest and add, “Having observed the trial and especially the fact that the key witness for the prosecution has retracted his testimony as ‘given under pressure and duress,’ we are shocked that the accusation of Oleg Sentsov having committed ‘crimes of a terrorist nature’ is still being upheld.” In the letter addressed to Vladimir Putin and others, the groups call for the charges to be dropped due to insufficient evidence and the instigation of “a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the apparently arbitrary detention by the FSB and Oleg Sentsov’s statements about torture in order to bring all those responsible to justice.”

The full text of the letter is at the bottom of the post.

PREVIOUS, JULY 23 AM: “I do not recognize the authority of this court. You can examine whatever you want,” Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov told a judge in Rostov-on-Don, Russia this week. After more than a year in detention, the helmer of 2011’s Gaamer is now on trial, facing charges of terrorism, organization of a terrorist group and arms trafficking. The international film community has called for his release ever since he was arrested in 2014 after being involved in supporting the Euro Maidan protests in Kiev, and opposing the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Russian prosecutors also say he was involved in two attempted arson attacks.

The trial has been pushed a number of times, but started this week with grim expectations, according to Sentsov’s defense team. Per local reports, one of his attorneys said they expect a negative outcome, but hoped that Sentsov could eventually be exchanged for “people important to Russia.”

Filmmakers have globally come out in support over the time of Sentsov’s incarceration. In October 2014, the European Film Academy joined with the French Directors’ Guild to craft a petition voicing their opposition to his detainment and trial. Signatories at the time included Jacques Audiard, Juan Antonio Bayona, Niels Arden Oplev, Costa Gavras, David Mackenzie, Stellan Skarsgård and Venice Film Festival chief Alberto Barbera. Pedro Almodóvar, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach also signed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin in June last year, asking to ensure Sentsov’s safety.

It is not known how long the trial is expected to last. If convicted, Sentsov faces up to 20 years in prison. The last project he was working on was drama Rhino, which landed him a pitching prize in 2012.

Here is the EFA letter:

To
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin – President of Russia
Sergey Evgenyevich Naryshkin – Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation
Alexander Wassiljewitsch Bortnikow – Director of the FSB
Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kolokoltsev – Russian Minister of Internal Affairs
Yuriy Yakovlevich Chaika – Prosecutor General

From the moment when we learned that the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was arrested by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) in his house in Simferopol on 11 May 2014, we have been deeply worried. We have followed the proceedings from a trial repeatedly being postponed until over one year later when it finally opened in Rostov-on-Don. Having observed the trial and especially the fact that the key witness for the prosecution has retracted his testimony as “given under pressure and duress”, we are shocked that the accusation of Oleg Sentsov having committed “crimes of a terrorist nature” is still being upheld.

In the light of these circumstances, we respectfully call upon you
· to ensure the safety of Oleg Sentsov;
· to have the charges dropped due to insufficient evidence;
· to have the detained released immediately and unconditionally;
· to ensure complete rehabilitation of the detained;
· to instigate a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the apparently arbitrary detention by the FSB and Oleg Sentsov’s statements about torture in order to bring all those responsible to justice.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Daldry, director, UK
Mike Downey, producer, UK
Agnieszka Holland, director, Poland
Dariusz Jablonski, producer, Poland
Aki Kaurismäki, director, Finland
Mike Leigh, director, UK
Ken Loach, director, UK
Wojciech Marczewski, director, Poland
Daniel Olbrychski, actor, Poland
Volker Schlöndorff, director, Germany
Béla Tarr, director, Hungary
Bertrand Tavernier, director, France
Andrzej Wajda, director, Poland
Wim Wenders, director, Germany
Krzysztof Zanussi, director, Poland

The European Film Academy also thanks its friends at the Polish Film Academy who Support this letter:

Jacek Bławut, DoP/director
Ryszard Bugajski, director/screenwriter
Feliks Falk, director/screenwriter
Janusz Głowacki, screenwriter
Jerzy Hoffman, director/screenwriter
Andrzej Jakimowski, director/screenwriter/producer
Violetta Kaminska, producer
Jan Kidawa-Błoński, director/screenwriter
Joanna Kos-Krauze, director/screenwriter
Stefan Laudyn, festival director
Olena Leonenko, actress
Marcel Łoziński, director/screenwriter
Janusz Majewski, director/screenwriter
Paweł Pawlikowski, director
Ewa Piaskowska, producer
Jerzy Skolimowski, director/screenwriter
Allan Starski, production designer
Małgorzata Szumowska, director/screenwriter
Izabela Wojcik, producer
Andrzej Żuławski, director

Berlin, 18 August 2015