EXCLUSIVE: Call for directors, producers and sales agents to give their films for free to festivals in troubled Ukraine.

Cannes’ Thierry Fremaux, the Berlinale’s Christoph Terhechte and Venice chief Alberto Barbera are among 92 people working at 60 festivals in 38 countries to have answered a call to show solidarity with their Ukrainian festival colleagues.

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily, the initiative’s coordinator, Warsaw Film Festival director Stefan Laudyn, explained: “When we heard the news from Ukraine, after a quick email and SMS exchange with Sara [Norberg of Helsinki IFF ¨Love & Anarchy¨], Tiina [Lokk of Black Nights F], Tudor [Giurgiu of TIFF/Cluj] and the Stefans [Uhrik and Kitanov of Febiofest and Sofia IFF], we decided to prepare a letter of support and sent it to our friends at film festivals worldwide.”

In the letter, the six festival chiefs called on directors, producers and sales agents to give their films “willingly and for free to all film festivals in Ukraine” and also not to charge any screening fees from Ukrainian festivals this year.

In addition, they asked national film institutes to support the travel costs for filmmakers attending festivals in Ukraine and to meet the costs of sending the film prints to these events.

“Incredible” response

Laudyn continued: “It became obvious that Julia Sinkevych [the recently appointed executive producer of Odessa IFF], our old friend Andriy Khalpakhchi from Molodist in Kiev, and others need help.

“The response was just incredible. Within a couple of days our initiative was backed by practically all important international film festivals.”

“The words of my deepest respect go to Kirill Razlogov and Andrei Plakhov from Moscow IFF and to Alexei Medvedev from Message to Man IFF in Saint-Petersburg, who were among the first to sign,” Laudyn added.

The list of names so far also include Nadia Dresti (Locarno), Alissa Simon (Palm Springs), Chris Fujiwara (Edinburgh), Jay Jeon and Lee Yong-Kwan (Busan), Azize Tan (Istanbul), Frederic Boyer (Tribeca), Jerome Paillard (Marché du Film), Tom Luddy (Telluride), Marcelo Panozzo (BAFICI), Ilda Santiago (Rio de Janeiro), Mirsad Purivatra and Elma Tataragic (Sarajevo), Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey (Toronto) as well as colleagues from the Rotterdam, Cottbus and goEast festivals.

“I believe that now, after reading the letter, festival organisers in Ukraine will feel they are not alone,” Laudyn said. “Now it’s up to the international film community if and how much they will really help.”

Anyone wishing to add their name to the list should visit Warsaw’s website www.wff.pl/en/

World premiere at Febiofest

Febiofest will support Ukraine during its opening evening next Thursday (20 March) by presenting the world premiere of The Voice of the Young Ukraine - a collection of shorts by student film-makers bearing direct testimony to the Ukrainian revolution.

The films will be introduced by the director Alexander Scerbak and cameraman Mykyta Panisov, along with one of the Maidan heroes, director Mikhail Gerasimovic Ilyenko (The One Who Has Passed Through the Fire).

Russian support

The initiative comes just days after the leading Russian film-makers’ association Kinosoyuz published an open letter expressing support for their Ukrainian counterparts.

The letter had been signed by directors including Boris Khlebnikov, Alexey Popogrebsky, Andrey Proshkin, documentary film-makers Maria Razbezhkina and Vitaly Mansky, film historian Naum Kleiman, and film critics Andrey Plakhov and Victor Matizen, among many others.

“Do not have doubts about us. We are on the side of truth, we are with you!”, the letter stated in reaction to an appeal by the Ukrainian film community for support from Russian colleagues “to say ‘No’ to the plans to divide our nations”.

In addition, director Alexander Sokurov, internationally known for such films as Russian Ark and Faust, also spoke out publicly last weekend about the events in Ukraine and Crimea.

He wrote: “We are not one nation with the Ukrainians, we are different. We have different cultures within us. It’s not for nothing that the Ukrainians have always wanted to live with a separate government.

“Yes, we are close, we have a lot in common, but that doesn’t mean that we are one nation. We are different and we need to respect and value this difference.”

Russia rallies Putin supporters

It did not take long before Russia’s Ministry of Culture had rallied its own troops to publish a statement on its website on Wednesday morning with a list of 80 signatories (this has now increased to more than 180) from the world of arts “in support of the position of the President in Ukraine and Crimea”.

Supporters from the film world include directors Pavel Lungin, Alexey Uchitel and actor-director-producer Fedor Bondarchuk, actor Oleg Tabakov, and Mosfilm boss Karen Shakhnazarov.

Russian social media sites came alive with heated exchanges about the names on the list with the concern that this could lead to permanent rifts on a personal level between colleagues finding themselves in diametric positions on the crisis.

Indeed, it seems ironic seen from the outside that Bondarchuk should be in the pro-Putin camp and, at the same time, have Kiev-born Alexander Rodnyansky producing his box office hits such as The 9th Company, The Uninhabited Island and last year’s 3D blockbuster Stalingrad.

Moreover, last December saw Bondarchuk become a board member of Berlin-based A Company Filmed Entertainment where Rodnyansky is chairman and majority shareholder.

 Ukraine’s intelligentsia responds

Julia Sinkevych revealed to ScreenDaily during the opening dinner of the Sofia Meetings last night (Thursday) that Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture has responded to its Russian counterpart’s open letter with a statement signed by members of Ukraine’s National Academy of the Arts.

The signatories include internationally renowned film directors Kira Muratova and Roman Balayan.