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Mohsen Makhmalbaf Receives the Robert Bresson Award at Venice Film Festival

Mon, 07/09/2015 - 18:00

The prestigious Robert Bresson Award of Venice Film Festival went to the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
Every year this award is presented to a master of world cinema during the course of the festival. Previous recipients of the Bresson Award includes the film director Theo Angelopoulos from Greece, Wim Wenders from Germany, Aleksandr Sokurov from Russia and Ken Loach from England.
While accepting the award Mohsen Makhmalbaf said: "Bresson was a true legend who did not belong to any wave in cinema. He was himself; the complete wave of art, morality, humanity and pure cinema. Something which is very rare in todays world. Bresson felt responsible towards other human beings suffering and constantly tried to reduce their pain and agony by every film he made." 
At the end of the award ceremony, Mohsen Makhmalbaf dedicated his award to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who has been sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment by the Russian government last week.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf said: "Nothing but wishing for the freedom of people of his country has brought Oleg Sentsov a brutal 20 years imprisonment."
Mohsen Makhmalbaf:
When I was the President of the jury of the Sakhalin Int’l Film Festival “On the Edge” (Russia), with great concern have I learnt about the 20-year sentence to the Ukrainian filmmaker and activist Oleg Sentsov. The details of this case were related to me by the director of programming of the Sakhalin IFF Alexey Medvedev (see his letter below). I fully understand the worries of my Russian friends and colleagues and support their cause. It seems like this is the case of major injustice. Many filmmakers, activists, politicians have already voiced their protest against this politically motivated process, but it didn’t stop the Russian court from issuing an outrageous sentence on August 25. So, a new campaign is necessary.
In recent years, we have heard many statements from Russian leaders that Russia finally finds its independent voice and is ready to play an important role on the world arena. These claims of course can only be supported, but it is also important to remember that no national revival is possible on the basis of lies and propaganda. Even one destroyed life – and 20-year sentence for a 39-year old filmmaker surely means the cruelest of all individual punishments – will lead to an even greater punishment and retaliation that may befall on the whole country. The way to a better future can start only with an act of magnanimity, mercy, and understanding. Oleg Sentsov should make new films, not count years in prison.
So I would like to dedicate my Robert Bresson award to Oleg Sentsov, in the hope for his freedom.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf
7 Sep 2015
Venice Film Festival
Alexey Medvedev:
I have known Oleg Sentsov since 2011, when he came to the Moscow Int’l festival 2-in-1 with his debut film “Gamer” (it also took part in festivals in Sao Paulo, Rotterdam and many others). We became friends over these years, and I found in Oleg a sensitive and searching young filmmaker, also very keen on exploring the most painful problems of society. His next script, which we have been discussing together, was “Rhinoceros”, a tale against hatred and violence. Ironically, now he is wrongfully convicted of something that he fought against in his writings and films.
Last time I talked to Oleg was in Crimea in March 2014 (I came there with my wife to see the situation with my own eyes). These were exactly the dates when Putin made the final decision to annex Crimea. Although it was likely that the majority of population would support this decision, it was also obvious that many people were hesitant, and some remained strongly supportiveof the new Ukraine, reborn after the Maidanrevolution. And it was also clear that the Russian military having secretly occupied the peninsula would never allow the “dissidents” the free expression of their views. The result of the so-called referendum on joining Russia was decidedin advance.
Oleg was among those who were against the annexation. He is the citizen of Ukraine, he took part in the Maidan revolution, and he wanted the same spirit of freedom and renewal to spread in his native city of Simferopol and the wholeCrimea. He never mention nor, in my opinion, was capable of any violent acts that could have jeopardized human lives. His methods were peaceful – he organized street protests, car rallies, helped Ukrainian military stationed in Crimea, who became the hostages of the overwhelming Russian force. When we left Crimea in the wake of the “referendum”, Oleg was worried, alert, and full of energy. The airport of Simferopol was controlled by the Russian military in disguise. It was clear that the Crimea we were leaving is not free anymore – it became a pawn in the game of domination and propaganda.
What happened next is well documented innumerous international and Russian sources. Oleg was arrested in Simferopol in May 2014 by the Russian federal security service on the charge of terrorism. He was threatened and tortured. Persecutors claimed that he automatically lost his Ukrainian citizenship since Crimea joined Russia. Together with Oleg were arrested Gennady Afanasyev, Alexei Chirniy, and Alexander Kolchenko. Federal security service accused them of being a terrorist group. Afanasyev and Chirniy made deals with the prosecution and named Oleg Sentsov their leader in exchange for lesser terms. There is practically no doubt that they also had been tortured and threatened.
In any case the only proven facts (if anything could have been proven at all at this shameful trial) is the arson of the door of the so-called “Russian Community of Crimea” (pro-Russian organization in Simferopol) with the damage of approximately $500 and the intention to blow up the Lenin monument. In both cases Oleg was not involved directly, but allegedly these were his orders. There is no proof of that, and Oleg pleaded non-guilty. Moreover, Gennady Afanasyev retracted his evidence against Oleg at the trial in August saying it was coerced. But it didn’t change the predefined outcome, and Oleg was sentenced to 20 years in prison on August 25, 2015.
I really don’t want to separately judge the four accused in this process and to go into details about their alleged crimes. And I don’t think that being a filmmaker means that Oleg should get some special attention or support. I think that all four should be pardoned (if this is necessary at all) and freed immediately. I only want to say that this process is clearly not an act of justice, but the cruelest punishment of Russian authorities to people staying faithful to their country, Ukraine, in a difficult historical situation. This is vengeance, and the country that replaces justice with vengeance is doomed.
Whatever you think about the annexation of Crimea (you can even call it a blessed reunification with the Great Mother Russia), you have no other choice but to admit that many international laws, norms and treaties were broken by this act. In this situation, the will of the Ukrainian (and not only) citizens to protest is understandable and fully justified. In the face of such major transgression to accuse these young people of terrorism, to torture them, to throw them in jail, and to destroy their lives for the allegedly burned $500 door is the most cynical act of treachery and lies on behalf of Putin’s regime. If this wrong is not righted, Russia will finally lose its opportunity to come back peacefully to the track of normal democratic development.
This is my opinion, and I hope it will be supported by all the people of good will, decency, and common sense.
Alexey Medvedev
Director of programming for Sakhalin Int’l Film Festival “On the Edge”
Source of News:
The Gaurdian - Venice 7 Sep 2015
Screen Daily - Venice 7 Sep 2015