EXCLUSIVE: The Ukrainian Institute has lambasted the organizers of a prestigious German filmmaker residency program for inviting Russians and Belarusians to take part as well as Ukrainians, slamming the emergency program for the “perpetuation of both an outdated Soviet perspective and Russia’s colonial logic.”
In a letter sent by Ukrainian Institute Director General Volodymyr Sheiko in July, Sheiko urged Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg (MBB), the organizer of the emergency program for “refugee and endangered filmmakers,” to “frame the residency program in a different way and instead recognize that Ukrainians feel much more affinity with their neighbours across Eastern and Central Europe.”
The letter was sent twice to MBB but MBB didn’t respond to the Ukrainian Institute, Deadline understands.
Several Ukrainian filmmakers subsequently refused to apply to the program in protest, according to a spokesman for the Institute, who said it was “not the only initiative which was framed in this way,” adding: “It’s time for all of us to reconsider the place of Ukraine and Russia in the world and the complexity of their mutual past.”
The emergency residency program opened in early July and offers €162,000 ($167,400) to 11 “refugee filmmakers from Ukraine and endangered filmmakers from Russia and Belarus” for six months. Under the professional supervization of the MBB-organized prestigious Nipkow program, the filmmakers will spend the months working in Germany and networking with the local film industry. Ordinarily, Nipkow is open to all writers, directors, producers and animators, who submit feature film project ideas and are given help with their scripts.
While thanking MBB for “your efforts in supporting filmmakers in Ukraine who have suffered from Russia’s brutal invasion,” Sheiko’s letter said treating Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians as part of the same group is “not only ethically questionable and insensitive toward Ukrainians but, more fundamentally, perpetuates an ideological construct of ‘three brotherly peoples’ that originated in the Russian Empire and was later cemented by Soviet historiography.”
“It is the concept of the ‘three brotherly peoples’ that had been used by the Soviet regime as an excuse to homogenize the cultures of the three countries, which de facto meant the forced Russification of Ukraine and Belarus,” added the letter.
“While Western academia and cultural institutions have been invested in decolonizing history and our knowledge of the world for the past decades, uniting Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine under the same umbrella is a perpetuation of both an outdated Soviet perspective and Russia’s colonial logic.”
The letter went on to say that forcing Ukrainians into joint projects with Russians “unwillingly prolongs the colonial violence Ukrainians have suffered for centuries.”
While MBB didn’t respond at the time, CEO Kirsten Niehuus told Deadline the program was framed in such a way because “Berlin understands itself as a city of freedom,” adding that there is “no obligation to meet or cooperate with other filmmakers of the same or other countries.”
“The city offers refuge to filmmakers whose existence is threatened by war or who are politically persecuted by autocratic regimes without a democratic legal system,” she added.
The controversy comes after several major film festivals have had to grapple with their approach to Russian films and filmmakers. Russian dissident filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov’s Tchaikovsky’s Wife was the only Russian film that made it to Cannes, for example, a move that was widely debated due to the pic’s links with Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.