Orthodox activists threaten violence against movie theatres


Open letter by cinematographers about situation surrounding the film "Matilda."

Meduza, 7 February 2017


Aleksei Uchitel's new film "Matilda," which still has not been released, has become the object of criticism on the part of hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and bureaucrats: thus, Bishop of Egorev Tikhon Shevkunov called the picture, which describes a romantic episode from the life of Nicholas II, "slander," and Deputy Natalia Poklonskaia has already twice asked the prosecutor general's office to conduct an examination of the film. Meduza is publishing an open letter from more than 40 members of the Cinema Union [Kinosoiuz] regarding the situation surrounding "Matilda."


Aleksei Uchitel's film "Matilda" is scheduled to be released for circulation only in October 2017, and nobody has yet seen it. But for more than a month now a campaign has been conducted against the picture, which only short-sighted people can regard as unique publicity. State Duma Deputy Natalia Poklonskaia has already twice now tried to initiate a prosecutorial examination on suspicion of hurting believers' feelings. They are concerned that Emperor Nicholas II, who was canonized by the RPTs, may be shown as not quite the image of a "saint." After all, the basis for the film's story is his romance (which, however, was ended back before his coronation and marriage) with ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaia. That's minor. We have learned about the delivery to cinemas of the country of letters in the name of a certain organization, "Orthodox state—Sacred Rus," with threats to those distributors who risk showing "Matilda." These letters contain calls for burning down cinemas and violent actions.


The situation surrounding "Matilda" fits in with a number of other recent conflicts in the field of culture: these are the ban on the opera Tannhauser, the pogrom of the exhibit of Vadim Sidur, and discontent with the Hermitage's exhibition policy. In all of these episodes so-called "Orthodox activists" act with evident power, but the official church does not give an assessment of what is happening. At best, the Ministry of Culture also takes a wait-and-see position.


We, cinematographers, especially of the older generation, know well that such censorship in the course of several decades of the soviet period cripples the fate of artists and hinders the development of art. We do not want our culture to fall under the weight of a new censorship, no matter which influential forces may initiate it. We wish to live in a secular, democratic country, where censorship is forbidden not only according to the constitution but also in reality.


This letter was initiated by the Cinema Union, but signatures are welcomed from cinematographers regardless of their membership, since this is a threat common to all. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 February 2017)


Tr. note: 64 signatures follow.

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