Cannes: Empty Chair Stands in for Russian Director Under House Arrest

Cannes Press Conference for 'Summer'
John Phillips/Getty Images

Kirill Serebrennikov, whose feature 'Summer' is in the festival's competition lineup, wasn't allowed to travel to France from Moscow.

An empty chair stood in for Kirill Serebrennikov in Cannes on Thursday, as the festival celebrated the Russian director's competition title Summer while Serebrennikov remains in Moscow under house arrest.

At the press conference for Summer, a biopic about the early days of a Russian rock star in the Soviet era, the film's producers and stars framed the empty spot where Serebrennikov should have sat.

A vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Serebrennikov was arrested during the shooting of Summer on a fraud case that his producer called "ridiculous." The director left detailed instructions on how to finish the shoot and did the editing himself once he was released from prison and put under house arrest.

The Cannes festival had asked the Russian government to release Serebrennikov to attend the film's premiere, but was roundly rejected.

"We received an answer from Mr. Putin yesterday who told the Cannes Film Festival and the French government that he would have been pleased to help ... but in Russia justice is independent," said Joel Chapron, who was chairing the festival news conference. Russian authorities insist Serebrennikov's fraud case has nothing to do with censorship.

Summer is based on the true story of Russia rock star Viktor Tsoi, one of the country's most successful and influential rock musicians, who died in a car crash in 1990, at age 28. Told mainly in black and white, with flashes of unexpected animation and a Russian rock sound track, Summer is not overtly political and will get a theatrical release back home.

But producer Ilya Stewart said while the film was talking "about the context of that time, not stressing any similarities (with the present)," he said that "everything Kirill does in his work, whether it's ballet, theater or any of his films, it's about today. He speaks about today."

Summer is one of two films in the Cannes competition whose directors are under arrest at home. The other one is Three Faces from Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi, which will screen Saturday. Panahi is officially banned from making films or leaving the country.