Ukraine: Banning of films continues

15 February 2017

By Oksana Chelysheva

In the period from 2014 to 2017 over 500 films produced in Russia have been banned from being broadcast and distributed in Ukraine. The list published by Ukraine’s National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting comprises not only films produced in Russia during the conflict which erupted in spring 2014, but also films made in the 80s and 90s.

In April 2016 Vasily Gritsak, the head of Ukraine’s Security Service, appealed to the Ministry of Culture with recommendations to “revise approaches for making decisions to ban films made in Russia”. In his letter, he stated:

We ask you to initiate a more thorough processing of content that is prohibited with the mandatory involvement of experts of the expert Committee for Cinematography, which operates under the State Agency of Ukraine for Film, which will allow you to select from the general list of prohibited films for screening in Ukraine, especially those that are well known and popular among the people … as a result, in Ministry of Culture’s list were movies, the ban of displaying of which can be interpreted as an encroachment on the constitutional rights of citizens.

However, it doesn’t seem that the ministry is going to take such considerations into account as in January 2017 it was announced that 18 more films have been forbidden to be broadcast in Ukraine, including two movies by a famous Soviet/Russian film director Eldar Ryazanov.

The council has been using two specific laws to ban films: the Law on Cinematography, which was amended in March 2016 to reflect new language that allows the banning of films that popularizes or pushes propaganda by “aggressors”; and the 2015 Ukrainian Law on the Condemnation of Communist and Nazi Totalitarian Regimes as well as Prohibition of their Propaganda Symbols.

A look into some of the banned films
Despite these laws, there is no single movie on the list of banned films that was released in Hitler’s Germany or promoted the values of a “one nation-one leader” state. A large majority of the films have been made in Russia, many of which are based on books by authors who died long before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution or even World War II.

Writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s serial-turned-novel ‘The White Guard’, which first appeared in a literary journal in 1925, has been adapted for film and television several times. The 2012 TV series by Sergey Snezhkin and the 2005 film by Zhenovach and Timofeeva were both banned for “distorting historical facts” in favour of Russia. The novel tells the story of a family during the Ukrainian War of Independence as various armies fight over the city of Kiev.

A 2005 TV miniseries of Bulgakov’s most famous work, ‘The Master and Margarita’, was also banned in 2016 by Ukrainian officials.

Gleb Orlov’s 2014 film ‘Iron Ivan’, which tells the story of famous wrestler Ivan Poddubny who had a forty-year career starting in the early 1900s with only two losses, was banned because Ivan was regarded as “a famous Russian and Soviet sportsman” despite the fact that he was born in the village of Krasenivka of the Russian Empire Poltava Governorate, which is now the Cherkasy Region of Ukraine.

Among the banned films are three 2014 films – ‘In the Dark’ by Andrey Eshpai, ‘The Pit’ by V. Furman and ‘Duel’ by Andrey Malukov – based on novels by Russian writer Alexander Kuprin, who died in 1938.

Leo Tolstoy’s 1889 novella ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, a first-person story about jealous rage, when first published was banned in Russia and the USA for its morality. A 2011 film version of the novella by Anton Yakovlev was banned by Ukrainian officials.

Vladimir Bortko’s 2009 film ‘Taras Bulba’, based on Nicolai Gogol’s story about a Cossack chief and his two sons, who study at Kiev Academy, return home, then join other Cossacks to go to war against Poland, was also banned in Ukraine. The film featured two Ukrainian film legends, Bogdan Stupka and Ada Rogovtseva, who herself is known for her staunch Ukrianian nationalistic stance. Ukraine’s TSN media outlet reported that the Ministry of Culture referred to the film as anti-Ukrainian and that it “amended history in favour of Russia”.

A 2008 film by Dmitry Dyomin on the writer entitled ‘Gogol – Portrait of a Mysterious Genius’ has also been banned in Ukraine.

Two versions of ‘The Tale of Fedot the Soldier, a Daring Lad’, a feature film and cartoon, based upon the satirical poem by Soviet and Russian actor and poet Leonid Filatov, have also been banned. The poem is a bitter satire of politicians in power and tells the story of a fight between the Tsar, his general and the common folk. Though an exact explanation for the ban wasn’t possible to obtain, perhaps a verse from the general can shed some light on what may be deemed offensive:

There’s… what is it?.. a crowd
of people on the palace grounds!
So it’s obvious: things are taking
A social turn, if I’m not mistaken!
It’s Fedot who is to blame,
He is playing a deep game,
Setting people against you,
Urging them to stage a coup!

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