UPDATE, 08:06AM PST: A ray of sunshine after a dark day for the supporters of Kirill Serebrennikov, the respected Russian filmmaker who has been found guilty on fraud charges by a Moscow Court. Sentencing has just been read out and Serebrennikov has been given a three-year suspended sentence, which means he won’t be heading to jail unless he is convicted of another crime in that period.
Two others involved in the trial, Alexei Malobrodsky and Yuri Itin, have been given two-year sentences that will also be suspended. The fourth defendant, Sofia Apfelbaum, has been convicted but will face no punishment.
Even if the news offers some comfort for those backing Serebrennikov, which include many within the Russian film industry as well as the wider international community, the guilty verdict earlier today is still being met with shock and outrage. Yesterday, the European Film Academy stated that the charges were retaliation against the filmmaker for his criticism of the Russian government.
Serebrennikov’s producer Ilya Stewart, who has just heard the decision, told Deadline, “It speaks volumes about the context we find ourselves in that we are celebrating the fact that completely innocent people are given suspended sentences. However, I couldn’t be happier that the consequences are less harsh than many expected, and it’s a major victory that Kirill Serebrennikov, one of our generation’s greatest creative minds, can get back to work.”
PREVIOUSLY, 02:10AM PST: Kirill Serebrennikov, the prominent Russian filmmaker behind The Student and Leto, has been found guilty of criminal fraud by a Moscow court after a controversial trial.
Supporters of Serebrennikov claim the decision is politically motivated. Yesterday, the European Film Academy published a statement backed by numerous film lobbying bodies that called for the immediate dropping of charges and said they were “a thinly veiled way to retaliate against Serebrennikov for his political criticism”.
The director will be sentenced later today (June 26). Prosecutors have called for a six-year prison sentence and similar terms for his co-defendants Alexei Malobrodsky and Yuri Itin. The judge ruled a fourth defendant, Sofia Apfelbaum, was “unaware of the fraud”, according to AFP.
The charges relate to Serebrennikov’s role as the artistic director of the Gogol Center in Moscow, which he has turned into a prominent cultural center. The prosecution claim that the four defendants embezzled some 129 million rubles (€1.66 million) for a performing arts project called Platform, which received state funding. The state claims that Platform shows did not take place, a fact strongly refuted by the defense.
Serebrennikov appeared in court sporting a COVID face mask and sunglasses (see above) to hear the decision. Popular Russian cultural figures including the rapper Oxxxymiron gathered outside the courthouse to show support, according to the Moscow Times.
Charges were initially brought against the filmmaker in August 2017. A previous guilty verdict was quashed after “mistakes” in the process, with the Moscow court ordering a re-trial. Many of his backers in Russia had hoped the case would be dismissed. Serebrennikov and his co-defendants were released on bail in April 2019 after 18 months of house arrest. Since then, key witnesses of the prosecution have claimed they had been pressured to testify under duress.
Alongside being a leading theater director, Serebrennikov has helmed numerous feature films. His last two, The Student and Leto, both premiered at Cannes, with the latter playing in the prestigious Competition program. The director’s next feature, Petrov’s Flu, about a comic book artist suffering from the flu, was expected to debut on the Croisette this year before the fest was cancelled due to the pandemic; Deadline understands it is likely to wait for the French event’s 2021 edition instead.