Patti Smith Praises Pussy Riot at HBO's 'Punk Prayer' Screening

Patti Smith
Patti Smith
 Getty Images

When Pussy Riot disrupted services to perform a "punk prayer" at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral last year, the feminist Russian collective -- whose members wear colorful masks while protesting Vladimir Putin -- sparked an international media frenzy, reeling in a Who's Who of celebrity supporters including MadonnaPaul McCartney and Sting.

Another music legend, Patti Smith, grabbed the microphone in New York City on Wednesday night to introduce a special screening of the HBO Documentary film, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, which premieres Monday at 7 p.m.

"These girls have been such an inspiration," said Smith. "They are our daughters, our sisters. I think of them every day. There is not a time when I don't go on stage and I don't think about them, or feel the freedom to speak out and say the things that upset or anger me about my own country."

The singer-songwriter, who gave a rare private performance in Los Angeles last week at a benefit for the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the "revolutionary and pure heart" of the three Pussy Riot members arrested at the cathedral concert and convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are serving two-year sentences in a labor camp, while the third activist, Ekaterina Samutsevich, was released on probation in October last year.

STORY: Jailed Pussy Riot Member Ends Hunger Strike

"I salute them and they are us," declared Smith, imploring the crowd to also "remember what is happening in Istanbul, where young people are called fascists if they use social media. They are called looters if they protest in the street. We have to be diligent what is happening to our world."

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer follows the trio as they stand trial as Russians take sides amid a global outpouring of support for the women. A group of male religious conservatives (sporting "Orthodoxy or death" T-shirts) are shown making vicious remarks against fhem, with the ringleader sniping that Tolokonnikova is a "demon with a brain." But the activists, refusing to back down out of principle, would rather go to jail than renounce their beliefs.

The doc was shot by Maxim Pozdorovkin and Mike Lerner, who were allowed to film the unfolding courtroom drama and also capture footage of Pussy Riot rehearsing and rocking out in public spots such as the roof of a prison. The filmmakers also landed interviews with their parents (who were simultaneously worried and proud). 

Samutsevich, who's not allowed to leave Russia, Skyped in for a Q&A after the screening and expressed frustration over her inability to connect with Tolokonniva and Alyokhina. The latter has just completed a hunger strike and turns 25 years old on Thursday.

"I don't have a sense of guilt," Samutsevich said through a translator. "I have a sense of injustice and a desire to free them."

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson

Email: erin.carlson@thr.com

 

 

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