Docudays UA issues open letter to IDFA on inclusion of Russian films; festival responds

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (#IDFA) has been drawn into a complex debate surrounding the inclusion of Russian films in its 2023 program, as highlighted in an open letter from Ukrainian filmmakers. Dated November 7, 2023, and signed by 46 professionals from the Ukrainian film community, the letter, issued by Docudays UA, expresses deep concerns over this matter.

While acknowledging the significant presence of Ukrainian films at IDFA 2023, including the festival’s opening film, the letter appreciates the support provided by the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR) and the IDFA Bertha Fund to Ukrainian filmmakers. These organizations have been instrumental in offering financial and logistical support during 2022 and 2023.

Despite this recognition, the Ukrainian film community expressed disappointment and concern about the inclusion of Russian films and filmmakers at the festival. The letter refers to Russian director Ilya Povolotsky’s Mud, a world premiere. It argues, «cultural and artistic representation of Russia at international platforms is used by the Russian propaganda machine to legitimise war crimes committed against Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian population.» It suggests that such representation undermines the severity of the Russian-Ukrainian war and reduces the scope of responsibility for the conflict.

Further, the letter argues that providing a platform to Russian cultural sector members critical of Putin’s regime narrows the perception of the war’s root causes, stating, «To continue providing space on international platforms to members of the Russian cultural sector who are critical of the Putinist regime means to unwittingly reinforce their confidence in the belief that Putin’s dictatorship is the only root of the Russian-Ukrainian war.»

In a response, IDFA clarified its stance, stating, «will not be welcoming any Russian films connected to the Russian government or any of the organisations associated with it, including oligarch funds and the likes.» The festival emphasized its commitment to showcasing Russian films whose creators are critical of the war in Ukraine and the Russian government’s justifications for it.

The Ukrainian film community’s letter concluded with a poignant list of 41 Ukrainian film professionals who lost their lives due to the Russian invasion, underscoring the human cost of the conflict. This ongoing discussion between the Ukrainian film community and IDFA reflects the challenges of cultural representation amid geopolitical strife.

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