Ukrainian Cinema Union Calls Out Lionsgate, A24 and More for Releasing Films in Russia, Claims It Supports ‘Terrorism’

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Ukraine’s cinema union issued an open letter on Thursday calling on participants of the Cannes Film Market to halt all business with Russia. The statement asserted that releasing films in Putin’s pariah state is akin to “support for terrorism” amid its ongoing war of aggression in the Eastern European nation.

The letter, which was written by the Ukrainian League of Cinemas, singled out a number of leading international indie distributors and sales agents — including Lionsgate, STXInternational, FilmNation, A24 and Pathé — whose films have been released in Russia since the start of the war.

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“Continuing to do business in Russia means supporting the Russian terrorist state with taxes,” the statement read. “These taxes are then turned into weapons with which peaceful Ukrainian cities are destroyed, and our friends and colleagues are killed and maimed.”

Though Hollywood studios closed ranks in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion, pulling tentpole releases including Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” and Sony’s “Morbius” from Russian theaters, more than 140 U.S. films were nevertheless released in the country last year after fighting commenced, according to data from Russia’s Cinema Fund, which tracks ticket sales at the country’s exhibitors.

Several international releases continue to do brisk business in Russia, including Lionsgate’s “John Wick: Chapter 4,” which has grossed nearly $14 million to date in the country and the former-Soviet territories, known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and A24’s best picture Oscar winner “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which has grossed more than $2.3 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Guy Ritchie’s spy action comedy “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” meanwhile, released globally by STXinternational, has earned more than $9 million in Russia/CIS, and Pathé’s “The Three Musketeers” close to $8 million.

Contracts for many foreign films that have sold to Russia were signed prior to the Ukraine invasion. Others find their way to the country’s cinemas through convoluted routes, often through subsidiaries of Russian distribution companies based in other jurisdictions or via third-party distributors. (The Russian release of “John Wick 4,” for instance, was handled by Unicorn Media, a company registered in Malta.)

Asked to comment on their Russia business for Variety, reps for Lionsgate, FilmNation, A24 and Pathé did not immediately respond. A rep for STXInternational replied by email: “The company made its deal on [‘Operation Fortune’] prior to the outbreak of the conflict with Top Film, a Ukrainian-based distributor.” Lionsgate has previously maintained that it’s suspended all new business with Russia but continues to honor contracts signed before the war.

While working with third-party distribution companies and similarly circuitous arrangements are perfectly legal if sanctioned entities aren’t involved, one veteran European sales rep insists that they just give foreign companies cover to continue reaping the box-office windfalls in what was the world’s sixth largest theatrical market in 2021.

“We’ve been discussing these arguments for months between sales agents. The reality is that it’s far more financially lucrative to continue trading with Russia than lose out if the films were to be pirated,” said the sales rep, requesting anonymity. Regarding deals inked before the Ukraine invasion, they added: “Leading into 2023 we can just barely continue to claim deals were signed before the war. For new titles it will be difficult to continue using this argument.”

As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, the statement from the cinema union reminded Cannes Market delegates that there’s more than simple box-office receipts at stake, with a deadly barrage of Russian missiles raining down on Kyiv early Tuesday morning, just hours before Johnny Depp, Helen Mirren, Brie Larson, Uma Thurman and other assembled glitterati walked the red carpet in Cannes ahead of the world premiere of French filmmaker Maïwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry.”

The union noted that both the European Parliament and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly last November declared Russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism. “Therefore, the sale of films to the territory of the Russian Federation may be considered support for terrorism, and we urge producers, distributors and sales agents to review their relationships with Russian distributors and ensure that such actions do not contribute to the financing of terrorist organizations and the undermining of security in the world,” the letter read.

“We, the Union of Cinemas of Ukraine, appeal to film producers, film companies and world sales to stop cooperation with Russian film companies until the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the establishment of a just peace,” the union added.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear participants of the Cannes Film Market!

The public union “Ukrainian League of Cinemas,” whose purpose is to represent and protect the interests of cinemas of Ukraine, hereby expresses its sincere respect to you and addresses you on the following occasion.

As it became known, foreign film companies began to resume their work on the Russian film market. Among them are Lionsgate, STX, FilmNation, XYZ, Millennium, HanWay, Protagonist, Voltage, A24, Screen Media, Sierra/Affinity, Altitude, Arclight Films International, Anton Corp, Blue Box International, Pathe International, Studiocanal, Goodfellas (ex-Wild Bunch International), BAC Films, Elle Driver, Memento, Charades, Highland Film, Foresight, CJ Entertainment, WTFilms, Apollo Films, Sola Media, Latido Films and many more.

Continuing to do business in Russia means supporting the Russian terrorist state with taxes. These taxes are then turned into weapons with which peaceful Ukrainian cities are destroyed, and our friends and colleagues are killed and maimed. Unfortunately, we also see special cynicism in situations where the rights to American, French, British, and German tapes are sold to Russian rights holders for the territory of the “former USSR” together with the territory of Ukraine.

We also draw your attention to the decision of the European Parliament dated November 23, 2022 and the decision of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, according to which the Russian Federation was recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism due to the brutal war of aggression against Ukraine and crimes committed against civilians and infrastructure. Therefore, the sale of films to the territory of the Russian Federation may be considered support for terrorism, and we urge producers, distributors and sales agents to review their relationships with Russian distributors and ensure that such actions do not contribute to the financing of terrorist organizations and the undermining of security in the world.

We, the Union of Cinemas of Ukraine, appeal to film producers, film companies and world-sales to stop cooperation with Russian film companies until the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the establishment of a just peace.

Ukraine, for its part, will always be open to cooperation with international rights holders, without the participation of Russian intermediaries.

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