It’s been a year since Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Today the war grinds on as Ukraine continues to bravely defend itself, while Russia shows no sign of abandoning its ambitions of subjugating its democratic neighbour. For those of us more used to seeing the horrors of war played out on the big screen, the reality of its terror was brought home by cinema colleagues a couple of hours’ flight away facing invading forces, bombing campaigns and near-daily air ride sirens. Since then the cost of war has been brought home to European cinema in the form of steeply higher electricity prices, while in Ukraine the least of cinemas’ problems is that they often have no electricity at all following the latest Russian missile attack.
I will never forget the CJ Cinema Summit on 3 March 2022, just over a week into the war, when Russian forces were still encroaching on Kyiv and few believed that Ukraine’s defence would hold, let alone repel the Russian aggression. We heard from Sergey Budyak, CEO of Movex Ukraine, a software firm that continued to support its global clients from Kyiv amid the invasion. He spoke of the realities of staying behind with his family, a rifle constantly by his side, yet also spoke movingly about the importance of not forgetting the humanity of the invading forces. Natalia Baydan, the CEO of Ukraine’s Planeta Kino cinema chain, was in Kyiv and addressed the global audience about keeping her colleagues safe, from a room with its windows blacked out for fear of shelling. Neither knew if or when Russian forces would overrun them, but they were both determined to stay and fight.
Across the border, that same night, we also heard from Tomasz Jagiello, CEO at Helios cinemas. Poland was accepting tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees every day, a figure that would eventually reach hundreds of thousands. Poland and other European countries opened its arms to the women, children and old people fleeing the invasion. Helios put on screenings of animated films dubbed into Ukrainian, so that the refugees could forget the tragedy of their situation for an hour or two. Those screenings go on to this day at Helios. At Helios Przemysl by the Ukrainian border the screenings cannot completely drown out the constant drone of flights taking off and landing 24/7, bringing weapons, ammunition and supplies to Ukraine.
The war has impacted almost every aspect of daily life, at least here in Europe, from rising energy prices to hearing Ukrainian spoken on the streets. This war didn’t come as a complete surprise, but with ample warnings from the US and President Biden that Vladimir Putin was not amassing armed forces on Ukraine’s borders just for show. When the full-scale invasion began on the morning of 24 February 2022 it was clear that this was a war that would change everything, including for cinema. I wrote an editorial that same day in which I argued that Russia has made itself a pariah state and that there was plenty of historical precedent for the major Hollywood studios to halt the release of new film in the Russian Federation and Belarus. To their credit, they all did and have not reversed their stand since, even at a great financial cost to them and seeing their blockbusters brazenly shown in Russian cinema pirate screenings.
Over the past year we have continued to commission and publish more articles about the war and its impact on the cinema industry, both in Ukraine and in Russia. This has included the principled and brave resignation of Oleg Berezin from the Russian Cinema Association, how the war turned Ukrainian cinemas into bomb shelters, how Russia’s largest cinemas flirted with the idea of piracy screenings, Russian cinemas suing IMAX, Russia’s move to legalize copyright theft, how the global film and cinema industry has come together to support Ukraine and many more. We will continue to publish these articles.
Most recently the biggest news has been the growing number of Western films released officially and legally on Russian cinema screens. While the big Hollywood studios have continued to blacklist Russian cinemas, European and smaller American studios have fewer qualms about making money from selling films to Russia. This month alone has seen the Russian cinema releases of major titles such as “Shotgun Wedding,” “Winnie Pooh: Blood and Honey” and soon also “John Wick 4.” European distributors and sales agents have also been eager to fill the gap created by the absence of major Hollywood films, with the French seeming particularly keen to provide entertainment and escapism for the country raining death and destruction on Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. This economic activity indirectly contributes to Russian tax revenue which in turn helps to pay for the bombs and bullets killing Ukrainians day in and day out. “Culture of different,” is the self serving excuse certain French sales agents use as they sign yet more deals to increase their films’ market share in Russia, even as French films failed to crack the top ten in France in 2022.
One day the war will be over and it will end in Ukraine’s favour, even if it has already come at a terrible price. “Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something,” is the saying that we should all keep in mind when considering what we can do for Ukraine. One article, one donation and one armoured tank will not by themselves end the war. But put together they will turn the tide. Isolate Russia; support Ukraine. Slava Ukrainy.
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Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis