Russian Director Calls on Vladimir Putin to Release Political Prisoners

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Alexander Sokurov

Alexander Sokurov used the Kinotavr film festival as a bully pulpit, while Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov in a video message argued that residents of the Ukrainian city of Odessa should fight the country's authorities.

‎MOSCOW -- Two prominent Russian directors got political over the weekend, with Alexander Sokurov calling on President Vladimir Putin to release all political prisoners and Oscar-winner Nikita Mikhalkov told residents of the Ukrainian city of Odessa that they should fight the Ukrainian authorities without any support from Russia.

Sokurov, who won the Golden Lion at Venice three years ago on top of other domestic and international awards, called for the release of all political prisoners in Russia at the opening ceremony of the national film festival Kinotavr in Sochi, where he picked up a lifetime achievement award.

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Mikhalkov said that the city's residents should fight the "banderovtsy," a derogative name used for the current Ukrainian leadership in Kiev. The word refers to Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist leader in the early 1940s. "Regardless of how many people are killed and with how much cruelty, regardless of who kills them, [Russians] won't come to protect Russian and pro-Russian residents of Odessa," he said.

His comments suggested that Russia wasn't healthy or democratic enough. "There have always been people who will stand up for democracy in our country, which isn't healthy at this moment," he said, adding that there are too many people behind bars in Russia. Some of them landed there because of differences with authorities, he said.

Sokurov is known for being outspoken on political and social issues. Earlier this year, he sent an open letter to Putin, condemning a crackdown on oppositionist TV network Dozhd.

Meanwhile, Mikhalkov, the winner of the best foreign-language film Oscar for Burnt by the Sun in 1995, drew headlines with different comments. He issued a video address in which he challenged the residents of Odessa to prove that they are "Russians" by fighting Ukraine's authorities without expecting any support from Russia.

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A month ago, Odessa saw massive clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian activists, which left more than 50 people dead. Incidentally, some filming for Mikhalkov's current project, Sunstroke, was done in Odessa.

Mikhalkov's cozy fireside chat-style video remarks sparked a storm of derision on the Internet. Independent producers and directors, including Berlin-based Sergei Loznitsa, whose documentary on Kiev's winter revolution, Maidan, screened out of competition in Cannes, suggested in Facebook comments on the clip that Mikhalkov should be paid "no heed."