Most of us have only experienced war as filtered through the camera lens of Hollywood onto the cinema screen. But a real war is playing out in Europe right now; one whose true horror we only catch glimpses of through snatches of phone cameras and CCTV footage. A war that few imagined and nobody but one man wanted. A war that will somehow, in some way, impact every one of us, wherever we live.
That is why on Thursday, 3 March, the CJ Cinema Summit will be devoted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and those within our industry that are impacted by the war. We will speak with Natalia Baydan, the CEO of Ukraine’s Planeta Kino, from her home in Kyiv, as well as Tomasz Jagiello, CEO of Helios cinemas in neighbouring Poland. Sergey Budyak, the CEO of Movex Ukraine will tell us how his software firm continues to support its global cinema clients despite the chaos. Registration is free and we hope you’ll join us or view the session on-demand.
As we admire the bravery of the men and women defending Ukraine, we can also marvel at how the Western world has united and come together. Not just to condemn but to act swiftly to supply Ukraine with arms, to cut Russia off from the global financial system and for every type of industry to sever ties in ways that previously only applied to a handful of rogue states, such as North Korea and Syria. This is what Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, has done to his own country.
In the film industry, we saw all five major Hollywood studios announce they will halt the release of new films in Russian cinemas, while Netflix is refusing to carry Russian propaganda channels. The former may be due, in part, to a worthless rouble and a box office that evaporated last weekend. But this is how international organisations express their solidarity with Ukraine and condemnation of the war, while at the same time Russian involvement in international events is axed. There will be no Russian films in Cannes, the Bolshoi Ballet will not perform in London and you won’t be able to have Russian vodka in your local bar. The world has reacted with revulsion to Russia’s attempted subjugation of a democratic sovereign European state. Perhaps it is also making up for not having reacted strongly enough to past atrocities instigated by Putin, from Grozny, Crimea and Aleppo to the streets of Salisbury and the skies from which Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down. Perhaps also, out of shame for the many deals we have cut with Putin’s cronies and our willingness to look the other way too often.
At the same time voices are being raised in Russia in opposition to the barbarity being carried out under false (and frankly ludicrous) pretense. People are taking to the street to protest, even at the risk of arrest and beatings. In our industry, the courage of Oleg Berezin was on full display when, to condemn his country’s war, he resigned earlier this week as chairman of the Russian Association of Theater Owners. Berezin is joined by other leading figures from the world of culture and art, the field that is arguably one of Russia’s greatest exports to the world after oil, gas and vodka. We can only hope that such voices are amplified and heard until Russia leaves Ukraine and/or Putin is removed or gone.
War is horror. For anyone who has only seen war on film from the Western perspective, the salutary lessons of the Eastern Front is that it only amplifies those horrors. Ukraine was the stage for some of the worst battles and atrocities, as well as heroism, in the Second World War. For those that have not seen possibly the greatest war film of all time, called “Come and See” (“Idi i smotri”, 1985) about World War II in Byelorussia, the trailer will give you a fair idea. This is what the world is sliding towards again. A world war may once again be decided on Europe’s Eastern front and more than just hope, we must do all we can to support Ukraine, for the sake of Europe, for the sake of freedom and even for the sake of the people of Russia. We must do all we can to make this horror end.
Afterwards, the global exhibition industry will need to find a way to support its Ukrainian and Russian counterparts recover from a crisis that is not of their own making.
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