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European Fests Respond to Russian Invasion Promoting Ukrainian Films

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Almost two weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s film industry continues to parse the complexities of a boycott on Russian cinema in order to express solidarity with the Ukrainian film community.

While some film festivals, such as Stockholm and Glasgow, haven’t hesitated in boycotting Russian state-funded films outright, others like Cannes and Venice are taking a more nuanced approach, banning official delegations, but not necessarily Russian films and directors.

The war’s more immediate effect, however, is that Ukrainian cinema is set to gain an increased visibility in the festival arena and beyond.

On Monday evening, Rome’s Cinema Troisi hosted a free screening in collaboration with the Venice Film Festival of Ukrainian director Valentyn Vasynovych’s “Reflection” (pictured), set during the war in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, in 2014.

The film, which premiered in competition on the Lido last September, “asks, with brutal austerity, what happens to the soul of a man — and a nation — at war,” as critic Jessica Kiang put it in her Variety review.

The Rome event, introduced by Venice Biennale president Roberto Cicutto, is being followed by other screenings of “Reflection,” organized by the fest in Italy. One such event on Wednesday in Milan will be presented by Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera.

As Giorgio Gosetti, general delegate of the independently run Venice Days section puts it, “The most important thing we can do right now is help audiences learn more about the films that have come out of Ukraine in recent years, since there is so much false information going around.

“It’s easy to express our solidarity with Ukraine,” says Gosetti. What’s harder, he says, is “figuring out what we can do in more concrete terms.”

When it comes to programming the Venice Days section’s upcoming edition in September, “it’s clear that if and when we receive Ukrainian films, they will get some special attention and support,” Gosetti adds, although he cautions that this matter is still premature.

On Tuesday, Switzerland’s Visions du Réel docs fest announced that the selection of its upcoming edition in April will comprise four works directed and/or produced in Ukraine. One of these is the European premiere of Danish doc maker Simon Lereng Wilmont’s heart-tugging “A House Made of Splinters,” about the fractures caused by the pre-existing war in eastern Ukraine on a shelter for children. The film won a directing prize at Sundance in January.

Ukraine will also be in the spotlight at the Stockholm Film Festival, which will host film screenings, director visits and masterclasses highlighting the country’s cinematic output in November.

The Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, which is in the Czech Republic where more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees have been taken in since the invasion, is now also supporting Ukraine with a special presentation of Ukrainian-born exiled Russian documentarian Vitaly Mansky’s “Putin’s Witnesses.”

The timely doc chronicling the early days of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s tyrannical rule –– which won a prize at KVIFF in 2018 –– is being released in Czech cinemas by the fest’s distribution subsidiary Aerofilms. Proceeds from the screenings are being donated to the non-profit org People in Need.

The Berlin Film Festival, which ran last month, featured two Ukrainian films: the doc “Terykony” by Taras Tomenko which portrays the tough lives of kids in the so-called ‘gray zone’ on the front line of Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, and Maryna Er Gorbach’s drama “Klondike,” set against the background of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine which interweaves the personal and political history of the struggles.

Berlin and Germany are very close, not only geographical speaking, to what’s happening in Ukraine,” say Berlin co-chiefs Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, who are now supplying “Klondike” for a charity screening while also working on providing other films for children in refugee camps at the border areas with the war zone.

Meanwhile Dennis Ruh, who heads the Berlinale’s European Film Market, is organizing an online conference on the film industry in Ukraine, details of which will be forthcoming.

“There will be for sure more chances to support the film industry and artists in Ukraine in the near future, and we will always keep our eyes on the needs that may come out from our friends in Ukraine,” Rissenbeek and Chatrian point out.

The Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro and his team have always been in close contact with the film industry in Kyiv, is particularly concerned about the more than 7,000 Ukrainian, Russian, European and North American movies that are preserved in the archives of the National Olexandr Dovzhenko Film Center in the Ukrainian capital.

The Dovzhenko Film Center is a member of the International Federation of Film Archives, FIAF, and also of Heritage Online, Locarno’s platform dedicated to preserving the global cinema heritage.

“Today the stories kept there are at risk. And like them, those in Ukraine who want to write, shoot and produce new films are at risk,” Locarno said in a public statement on Twitter.

“They are clearly in danger; this is a patrimony that can be lost,” says Locarno Pro chief Markus Duffner, who responded to a cry for help from the film center. “We are trying to raise awareness  about what they are going through.”

Although, sadly in this case, he adds: “I’m not sure what concretely can be done there. Not very much to be honest.”