The European Film Academy on Friday again called for the immediate release from a Russian prison of Ukranian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov who has been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days. France’s Société des Réalisateurs de Films, which organizes the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival, has also launched a campaign with Palme d’Or winner Jacques Audiard delivering an impassioned video message (see below).
In a letter posted to the SRF website and published in French daily Libération, dozens of international filmmakers including Todd Haynes, Lucas Guadagnino, William Friedkin, Michel Hazanavicius, François Ozon, Rithy Panh, Lynn Ramsay, Claire Denis and the Dardenne brothers, called on Europe and the rest of the world “to use every means in their possession” to obtain Sentsov’s immediate release. “If Oleg Sentsov dies today, it is not only Vladimir Putin but France, Germany and Europe as a whole that would be stained with his blood,” the letter reads (see it in full after the video).
Sentsov was involved in supporting the 2014 Euromaidan protests in Kiev and opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He was arrested by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation at his home in May 2014 and brought to Moscow where he was detained awaiting trial for over a year. When the trial began in July 2015, the prosecution’s key witness retracted his testimony as “given under pressure and duress.” The next month, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years. He began a hunger strike on May 14 and has said he is not seeking his own release, but took the drastic step in order to demand the release of all Ukranian political prisoners currently held in Russia.
He has long been supported by industry groups trying to raise awareness while protests and rallies have been staged in various cities. The thinking had been that given the World Cup spotlight currently on Russia, this would bring further attention to his plight and perhaps exert pressure on Putin to act.
The SFR released the video of Audiard below just as France was kicking off against Uruguay in the quarter finals on Friday. The Rust And Bone and Dheepan helmer says, “We want to believe in one last, big victory that is more important than any football match — the liberation of Oleg Sentsov.”
Here’s the video of Audiard:
And here’s the SRF letter in full:
Today, on Russian soil, the FIFA World Cup 2018 is taking place.
Today, on the same Russian soil, a filmmaker hovers between life and death.
Aged 41, a father of two, he began an indefinite hunger strike on May 14, 2018, a month before the opening of the World Cup.
His name is Oleg Sentsov.
You probably know his name, but perhaps not his story.
The Ukranian Oleg Sentsov was born in Simferopol, Crimea, where he lived with his wife and children until 11 May 2014, the day of his arrest by the FSB, the Russian secret service.
After his first critically acclaimed feature film, which won awards in many international festivals, Oleg Sentsov was preparing his second film “Rhino” when the first pro-European protests broke out in Ukraine in November 2013. A filmmaker and committed pro-European citizen, he postponed his film in order to actively participate in the Euromaidan movement. Refusing the Russian annexation of Crimea, he took to the streets and delivered food to hungry Ukrainian soldiers surrounded by pro-Russian forces. He finally decided to shoot his new feature that summer, the summer of 2014. But as he left his home on May 11 that year, Oleg Sentsov was kidnapped and tortured by the FSB for three weeks, before reappearing not in Crimea, but the depths of a Russian prison…
Despite the protests of Oleg Sentsov, who shouted to the judges that he was not a “serf”, and that they could not “annex” him as they did with his land, he was treated and tried as a Russian citizen, and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment in a harsh labor camp, after a “Stalinist” trial, to cite Amnesty International.
As of 14 May 2018, Oleg Sentsov has started an indefinite hunger strike to demand the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners incarcerated like him in Russia.
If the European and international community does nothing else, Oleg Sentsov will die. His country was stolen, his nationality forcibly changed to that of his aggressors, and he was sentenced to twenty years at the bottom of an icy hole on the edge of the Arctic Circle. And Europe, the Europe he dreamed and fought for his country to join, that same Europe let him go.
If nothing happens, Oleg Sentsov will die. In his words, his life is the only weapon he has left to resist and defend the seventy Ukrainians that Putin holds hostage from their families and country for the sole reason that they do not agree with the expansionist policy he enforces with violence.
This man, who fights in the name of values that we share, can not disappear. His death would be a terrible loss for humanity and another terrible setback for Europe.
If Oleg Sentsov dies today, it is not only Vladimir Putin but France, Germany, and Europe as a whole that would be stained with his blood.
So we call on Europe and the rest of the world to use every means in their possession to obtain the immediate release of Oleg Sentsov.