Ukrainian Filmmakers ‘Distraught’ By Russian Presence in Transilvania Film Festival Competition

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Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk, whose feature debut “Pamfir” premiered in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight section, and director and former political prisoner Oleh Sentsov (“Rhino”) are among the Ukrainian filmmakers who say they’re “distraught” by the inclusion of a Russian film in the main competition at the Transilvania Film Festival.

In a statement posted on Monday to the Facebook page for “Pamfir,” the filmmakers spoke out against the selection of Russian director Lado Kvataniya’s “The Execution” as one of 12 features competing for the Transilvania Trophy, criticizing the “illusion of cultural reconciliation” created by the festival’s decision and insisting that “art does not exist outside of politics.”

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The filmmakers noted that Kvataniya’s psychological thriller was produced with the support of the state-backed Russian Film Fund as well as Kinoprime, the $100 million film fund bankrolled by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has been sanctioned by the U.K. and Europe.

“This film was strongly connected [to] and supported by the Russian government not only before the war, but after the start of the war, and should be considered as a sanctioned cultural product that was produced and distributed by Russia,” said the filmmakers.

The statement also renewed calls for a boycott of Russian films and called on cultural institutions to “suspend any cooperation with people and institutions directly or indirectly supported by the Russian government.”

In a response shared with Variety, Transilvania Film Festival president Tudor Giurgiu, artistic director Mihai Chirilov and festival manager Cristian Hordilă said they sympathized with the filmmakers’ position but stood firm in their decision to program Russian films at this year’s festival.

“We think that our common mission now is to make sure that the Ukrainian spirit is present and powerful in our festival. At the same time, as already stated by the international filmmaking community, it is important to not direct hate towards individuals only based on their nationality,” they said.

“The Execution” (pictured) is Kvataniya’s feature directorial debut. Known for directing provocative music videos – some of which have been censored in Russia – he has openly criticized the war in Ukraine on social media, declaring in an Instagram post shortly after the invasion: “I didn’t choose this president! I did not choose this war!”

Kvataniya, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Georgia but fled during that country’s civil war in the 1990s, told Variety that he “know[s] firsthand what is the horror of war,” adding that “the idea of war between [Russia and Ukraine] is unacceptable to me.”

Having spent most of his life in Russia, however, he said that he “want[s] to be a part of its great culture – especially now, when this culture can be ‘cancelled.’

“Russia itself cancels its culture. The Russian government does not accept dissidence, they ban the truth. Independent media and opposition in Russia have been destroyed,” the director continued. “Protesters get arrested and sent to prison. Any word against the war will result in a fine (at best) or imprisonment. But many people continue to express their thoughts openly.”

He added: “It is very important not to define a person on a national basis! It is necessary to separate the individuals and the government.”

Monday’s statement of protest was signed by Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk and Sentsov, along with “Pamfir” producers Aleksandra Kostina and Jane Yatsuta; co-producers Artem Koliubaiev and Alyona Tymoshenko; and “Rhino” producer Denis Ivanov. Also signing were members of the Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha, which will be performing at the Transilvania Film Festival this week.

As part of its TIFF for Ukraine initiative, the Transilvania Film Festival is offering free access for Ukrainian citizens to festival screenings; hosting a series of cultural events celebrating Ukrainian food and music; and presenting a charity screening of Sentsov’s “Rhino,” with all funds donated to the Emergency Fund for Filmmakers supporting Ukrainian filmmakers displaced by the war.

In a separate Facebook post on Tuesday, Ivanov expressed gratitude for the support the Transilvania Film Festival has shown the Ukrainian community, saying that there are “no right words to express how supportive for us your solidarity is in such dark times of our lives.”

However, he also voiced his frustration with the festival’s Russia position, noting that Sentsov “was not able to present the film to the public in Cluj, [because] he is at war, fighting Russian fascists.”

Ivanov continued: “Russian state-funded culture is a part of Russian state foreign affairs and Russian cultural diplomacy. This is simply the fact. Showing the films that are funded by the fascist state is opening the doors for Russian bloody politics.”

In its letter, the festival team stressed that the slogan of Transilvania’s 21st edition, “Make Films, Not War,” “is a call for peace, for creation, for freedom, and a direct statement of support for the Ukrainian people. It is a message that goes beyond words: it is a feeling of hope that resides in our hearts and minds and is shared by millions of Romanians.”

The Transilvania Film Festival runs June 17–26.

This story has been updated to include a response from “The Execution” director Lado Kvataniya.

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