"I Am Oleg" Protest in Support of Ukrainian Director Planned for Prague Festival

Oleg Sentsov Poster - H 2014
Courtesy of Ukrainian FIlmmakers Association

Oleg Sentsov Poster - H 2014

The European Film Academy also plans to help raise awareness for Oleg Sentsov, held on terrorism charges in a KGB prison in Moscow for nine months, at other upcoming European festivals.

A Charlie Hebdo-style protest demanding the release of detained Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov is due to take place at an upcoming film festival in Prague, with other initiatives designed to raise awareness about his situation planned for other European film festivals this spring, according to organizers.

Sentsov is facing up to 17 years in prison on terrorism charges that he denies, after being arrested at his home in Crimea by Russian secret service agents last year. He has now been held for nine months without trial in Lefortovo, an old KGB prison in Moscow.

Filmmakers and stars, including directors Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Pedro Almodovar and actors such as Stellan Skarsgard, have called for Sentsov's release.

Now, to highlight his situation, festivals across Europe will see initiatives to raise awareness. At an upcoming Prague festival, attendees will be asked to hold placards saying "I Am Oleg Sentsov."

It is a follow-up to an initiative in Poland on Monday. Polish network TVP2 aired live footage of audience members at the Polish Eagles awards ceremony that night, the country's version of the Oscars, holding placards reading, in Polish, "Jestem Oleg Sentsov."

Later this month, Prague's Febiofest will feature a similar Charlie Hebdo-style protest. Sentsov's first film Gaamer will be screened there. The festival's catalog entry for the film also contains details on Sentsov's plight and says: "Although the Russian side claims that Sentsov has confessed, the director along with his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze (who also defended the members of Pussy Riot) deny this and state that Sentsov was beaten and threatened with rape to force him to confess."

A "solidarity screening" of the film is also scheduled next month at the GoEast Festival, which focuses on Central and Eastern European films, in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria's Sofia Film Festival, which opened Thursday, is pointing out Sentsov's situation by having an empty chair as part of its jury lineup, with Sentsov named an honorary jury member. The "Empty Chair' campaign started at last year's Motovun Film Festival in Croatia. Similar actions have been held in Venice, San Sebastian, Toronto, Warsaw and the Catalan Film Awards.

The European Film Academy is helping to organize the awareness-raising campaigns for Sentsov.

Further action is planned at London's Frontline Club in May, with Polish director Agniezska Holland and Mike Downey, deputy chairman of the European Film Academy, in attendance.

Downey, who is helping organize the actions, told the Hollywood Reporter: "It is essential we maintain pressure on the Russian authorities to release Oleg Sentsov. Only with public awareness of his plight and strong international political pressure can we hope to influence the outcome."

Downey, who will be in Prague where the Febiofest is running a retrospective of his work as a filmmaker he has produced in central and eastern Europe and South Africa over the past 15 years, added: "It would be naive to think that Oleg Sentsov can expect anything but an unfair trial. We must continue our efforts before one of Europe's most promising filmmaking talents disappears for years into the Russian gulag."