Culture institutions close curtain on Russia over Ukraine

From the Venice Film Festival to the Munich Philharmonic to Hollywood board rooms, culture organizations are the latest to take a stand against Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP/File
Russian President Vladimir Putin presents a medal to Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Theatre's former artistic director, in 2016. Mr. Gergiev has been fired as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic because of his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The cultural backlash against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensified Tuesday as the Cannes Film Festival said no Russian delegations would be welcome this year and the Venice festival announced free screenings of a film about the 2014 conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

The announcements by Europe’s two premier film festivals came on the heels of other high-profile protests in the arts, including Hollywood’s decision to pull films scheduled for release in Russia and the Munich Philharmonic’s decision to fire chief conductor Valery Gergiev. The orchestra, joined by other orchestras and festivals linked to Mr. Gergiev, cited his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his refusal to reject the invasion.

Cannes, which is scheduled for May, is the most global of film festivals and its international village of flag-waving pavilions annually hosts more than 80 countries from around the world.

In a statement, festival organizers said the ban on any official Russian delegation or individuals linked to the Kremlin would remain “unless the war of assault ends in conditions that will satisfy the Ukrainian people.”

The festival didn’t rule out accepting films from Russia. In recent years, Cannes has showcased films from filmmakers like Kirill Serebrennikov, even though the director has been unable to attend. Mr. Serebrennikov is under a three-year travel ban after being accused of embezzlement by the Russian government in a case that was protested by the Russian artistic community and in Europe.

Hollywood continued pulling its films out of Russian theaters. After the Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros., and Sony announced they would halt distributing films in Russia, including Warner’s highly anticipated “The Batman,” Paramount Pictures announced likewise on Tuesday. That includes upcoming releases like “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and “The Lost City.”

The Venice Film Festival, meanwhile, said it was organizing free screenings of the film “Reflection,” about the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region as a sign of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

The screenings are scheduled for next week in Rome, Milan, and Venice.

The film, which was presented in competition at Venice last year, tells the story of a Ukrainian surgeon who is taken prisoner by Russia during the Donbass conflict in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, Russia threw its weight behind an insurgency in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine region known as Donbass, where Russia-backed rebels seized government buildings and proclaimed the creation of “people’s republics.”

“Reflection” shows the horrors of war as well as the surgeon’s efforts to rebuild relationships after he was freed.

It was directed by Ukrainian director Valentyn Vasyanovych, whose film “Atlantis” in 2019 was also set in eastern Ukraine and dealt with similar issues of war and trauma. “Atlantis” won the Best Film award in the experimental Orizzonti section of the 2019 Venice Film Festival and was Ukraine’s candidate for the Oscars.

Earlier this week, the art exhibition of the Venice Biennale, of which the annual film festival is a part, announced the curator and artists of Russia’s pavilion had quit their positions to protest the war in Ukraine.

Last week, the European Broadcasting Union announced Russia would not be allowed to enter an act for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, to be held in Turin in May.

The 2016 winner of the Eurovision contest was Ukrainian singer Jamala, who won with a song about the 1944 deportations of Crimean Tatars by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. On Tuesday, it emerged that she had fled Ukraine for Turkey with her own two children.

A Crimean Tatar, Jamala told reporters in Istanbul that she never imagined that she would end up sharing the same fate as her grandmother, who she said “had just 15 minutes to pack” during the forced deportations of 1944.

The singer said she left Kyiv for Ternopil, in western Ukraine, where she thought her family would be safe, but decided to cross into Romania when she woke up to the sound of explosions there, too. Her husband, like all men aged 18-to-60, remained in Ukraine.

This story was reported by the Associated Press.

Editor’s note: Check out the Monitor’s comprehensive Ukraine coverage from correspondents in Ukraine, Europe, the United States, and beyond on our Ukraine page.

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