European Film Academy Urges Russian Oscar Winner to Help Imprisoned Ukrainian Director

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Oleg Sentsov

Directors, including Wim Wenders and Agnieszka Holland, ask Nikita Mikhalkov, who is president of Russia's association of filmmakers, to support an appeal against Oleg Sentsov's 20-year sentence.

The European Film Academy has issued an appeal to Oscar-winning Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov to support an appeal against the 20-year prison sentence of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

Apart from a best foreign-language film Oscar, which he collected in 1995 for Burnt by the Sun, Mikhalkov is the winner of Venice's Golden Lion and Cannes' Grand Prize of the Jury.

Days ahead of an appeal to the Russian Supreme Court, EFA members — including its chairwoman Agnieszka Holland and such directors as Wim Wenders, Volker Schloendorff and Krysztof Zanussi -— have urged Mikhalkov, president of Russia's association of filmmakers, to join in the international protest over Sentsov's imprisonment on terrorism charges that he vigorously denies.

They are joined in their appeal by a personal open letter to Mikhalkov penned by Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski, published in top Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

Olbrychski, who has appeared in dozens of Polish, Russian and Hollywood movies during a career spanning 50 years, made a direct personal appeal to Mikhalkov, referring to him as "my Russian brother."

The actor wrote: "I believe that you do not think and feel differently [from] all the great artists from many countries who signed letters regarding our Ukrainian colleague to president Putin. The cruelty of [the] trial brings to mind the darkest judgments of the past of our common civilization and culture. I appeal to you and I beg you, as your Polish brother, to do something. Among all of us you are the person closest to your president and the case."

He added that Milkhalkov "knew well" that it was incumbent upon the filmmaking community to do what it could "for others selflessly."

The EFA says that Sentsov was seized by Russian security agents in Crimea following his opposition to its annexation last year and deported to Moscow. He was accused of plotting to blow up a statue of Lenin and other terrorist acts. He denied all charges.

"Although the key witness had retracted his testimony as given 'under duress,' the trial" was continued, EFA says. Sentsov's sentence of 20 years behind bars has been described by human rights group Amnesty International as "an unfair trial in a military court," the EFA notes.

The letter from the European directors urges Mikhalkov to join them in calling for Sentov's freedom. "There has been massive protest from all over Europe, including Russia, and from around the world against this sentence, which is violating Oleg Sentsov’s human rights," it says. "This verdict is a clear expression of what we all should prevent: The damage of the freedom of speech." 

Concludes the letter: "It is our responsibility — as filmmakers and as human beings — to stand up for human rights and the freedom of speech. Please raise your voice and support us in our support of Oleg Sentsov." 

Sentsov's appeal is due to be heard by Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow on Tuesday.

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