20 years under Putin: a timeline

Moscow officials are trying to sabotage the screenings of Cyril Tuschi's documentary on Mikhail Khorodkovsky. Caterina Innocente spoke with Olga Papernaya, representative of movie distributors' in Russia, about the threatening phone calls the Moscow movie theaters interested in screening the documentary received in the past few days. Papernaya is planning on making an official statement to the press on Tuesday, November 22.


Olga Papernaya from Kinoclub, Moscow


Caterina Innocente: Olga, what’s the situation in Moscow with screening Cyril Tuschi’s documentary on Mikhail Khodorkovsky?

Olga Papernaya: They’re trying to forbid it. They’re calling movie theaters, intimidating the decision-makers. Initially seven different theaters expressed interested in showing the documentary. But at the moment all we are left with, sadly, is one independent theater, Eldar. Everyone else got scared and has decided to wait it out, to see how it goes at other theaters. Moreover, almost all the theaters decided to drop out simultaneously, and in just a day or so we were left with one business partner instead of seven.

What this really means is that unfortunately Muscovites won’t be able to see the movie.

C.I.: In your opinion, though, what is the real reason people chose to break their agreements with you? Did the theaters give you any concrete explanation for their refusal to screen the film?

O.P.: The theaters do not want to explain anything. As a matter of fact, they don’t even want to discuss it. The only comment we got so far came from Moskino. Moskino is a chain of movie theaters under the jurisdiction of the City of Moscow’s Culture Committee. Our colleagues from Moskino told us confidentially that they received an unofficial phone call from a high-ranking official, explaining the consequences of going ahead with a screening of Khodorkovsky. But we received no official letters or explanations from them in written form.

C.I.: Do you think Eldar cinema will go ahead with the screening?

O.P.: We are very much hoping that they will screen it. The movie should premiere in Moscow on December 2, and in other Russian cities on December 1.

C.I.: You previously announced a closed screening and panel discussion at the Moscow PhotoLoft gallery on November 25th. Will that still take place?

O.P.: Yes, absolutely, that’s not cancelled. We convinced the PhotoLoft owners to transform one of their exhibition spaces into an evening screening space, but now, having found out the theaters’ decisions, PhotoLoft agreed to add a few more unofficial screenings to the press showing. So we will have two additional screenings there on the weekdays and four more on the weekends. We are starting to advertise these unofficial screenings today.

C.I.: So it seems you are doing everything in your power to make sure that the film reaches people.

O.P.: Yes. We started contacting informal venues and are now discussing the possibility of having so-called “alternative club screenings.” In addition to that, we are running a project called Kinokvartirnik. We are willing to lend DVDs and Blue-Rays of the documentary to any enterprising private groups who want to organize a public screening in their home or apartment. We are going to try to organize as as many Kinokvartirniks with this film as possible. We’re also looking at the option of having the movie streamed online.

C.I.: What is the situation with regional screenings in other parts of Russia?

O.P.: So far no regional theaters have called to cancel. Screenings are planned in St. Petersburg, Perm, Ekaterinburg, Saratov, Volgograd, Voronezh, Kaliningrad, Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, and even Almaty (the largest city of Kazakhstan). The exact schedule of screenings is available on our website, www.khodorkovsky-film.ru



C.I.: Olga, you’ve told me very candidly about what is happening behind the scenes. But what is your personal interpretation of all these events? How would you comment on, as the Russians call it, “a total absence of the presence” of democracy?

O.P.: People’s constitutional rights and freedoms are being violated, like the freedom of expression or the freedom to acquire information lawfully. The Constitution is a model of how one should live. Instead, here in Russia it is being constantly and cynically violated.

But I don’t think there was an order from above, since after all, we received all the necessary papers and a distribution permit. But what we are facing here is simply primal fear. Someone is afraid of losing his job. We tried the approach of a peaceful compromise – we offered to move the opening date until after election day. The main problem, as many people are convinced, is that the movie is premiering in Moscow on December 1 and the elections are on December 4.

C.I.: You are emphasizing the fact that the film received all the officially required screening permits. But it seems that this has become the common method in Russia long ago: what they can’t or don’t want to ban outright, they effectively ban by using unofficial methods of pressure and blackmail. Frankly, it would be much more honest to ban the Khodorkovsky documentary officially and openly.

O.P.: Yes, the repressions that took place in cinematography during the Soviet era are simply continuing. As we can see, not much has changed. The only difference is that in the USSR, the censorship system was clear and unequivocal: banned movies simply collected dust on the shelves. Today we live under the pretense of freedom of speech, so the movie receives all the required permits but is then banned de facto.

C.I.: Regarding the official from the City of Moscow’s Culture Committee: did this person also not agree to the idea of delaying the premiere until after the elections?

O.P.: He did not get back in touch with us. We contacted this particular person because we were well aware that Moskino’s direct bosses are sitting in that very same Culture Committee's office. In any case, we are not going to sit here and say nothing and not react in any way to the bans and the blackmail. If they are looking for a scandal, they will get it. Do they really need a scandal spiraling out of control before the elections? But that’s just a matter of rhetoric. I don’t want to live in a country where movies are being banned for political reasons. Let’s do something about it! We can no longer endure this hypocrisy.