Febiofest takes up cause of jailed Ukrainian director

Oleg Sentsov, photo: archive of Febiofest

One of the biggest Czech film festivals, Febiofest, which is to kick off in Prague next week, has officially joined the campaign to release Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian director who has been imprisoned in Russia. A leading activist opposed to the Russian annexation of Crimea, Sentsov was arrested in May last year on charges of preparing terrorist attacks. Despite pressure from various authorities, such as the European Film Academy and Amnesty International, his lawyer has been unable to secure his release.

Oleg Sentsov,  photo: archive of Febiofest
I spoke to Štefan Uhrík, Febiofests’ programme director, and asked him what led them to join in the protest:

“I think it is a responsibility of all of us, if we don’t want to end up like Oleg Sentsov, speaking on a personal note. Of course we are all filmmakers and we feel really sorry if someone from among us is taken prisoner from his own home, from Crimea, to a foreign country, to Russia, where he is put in prison and threatened by violence to testify for something he hasn’t done.”

What form will the support take?

“In fact there will be a screening of his 2012 film Gamer, the only feature he has done so far, because he is still a young filmmaker. The money from the screening will be sent to his lawyer through the European Film Academy, who we are cooperating with. Of course we are not overly optimistic, but something has to be done.”

'Gamer',  photo: archive of Febiofest
I believe you have also invited Mike Downey, the deputy Chairman of the European Film Academy, who has been actively supporting Mr Sentsov and has written an open letter in his support signed by a number of famous filmmakers.

“Yes, he is attending. He has, let’s say, more roles at the festival, because we have a special tribute dedicated to him.

“He is a very prolific European producer and co-producer and we will be showing five of his European co-productions.”

Štefan Uhrík,  photo: Tomáš Vodňanský
“But he will also speak about Sentsov, of course, because it is something that is on his mind and he would like to support the case.”

You said you are not overly optimistic since the pressure from various authorities has not really brought any change so far. So I guess the main aim of your event is to express solidarity and bring more attention to the case.

“Exactly. I was speaking to some of my friends, Czech filmmakers, and they asked me who Oleg Sentsov was. I was surprised they didn’t know and I hope that from now on they will.”