Cleveland International Film Festival joins boycott of Russian cinema

CLEVELAND, Ohio — When the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) announced its 2022 film lineup Monday morning, it featured filmmakers from around the world. But one country particularly absent from the mix was Russia.

The festival said in a statement that it had removed its Russian films from its initial lineup, due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

“No Looking Back” and “Unclenching the Fists” – two films originally scheduled to be part of the festival this year – will not be screened at the festival.

“The Cleveland International Film Festival joins cultural and artistic institutions around the world in standing in solidarity with Ukraine and its sovereign people. For this reason, we have made the difficult decision not to screen at CIFF46 any films produced by Russian-based companies or funded in any way by the Russian Federation,” the festival said in a statement.

CIFF said its decision to remove “No Looking Back” and “Unclenching the Fists” from programming was not based on the films’ content.

“The illegal and brutal actions of the Russian government are being challenged around the world,” CIFF said in a statement. “While we embrace artistic freedom and did not base our decision on any particular film’s content or storytellers, we must recognize that freedom itself is now at stake in Ukraine.”

CIFF has followed the Ukrainian Film Academy’s demand for a worldwide boycott of cinema associated with the Russian state. The organization launched a Petition calling for a boycott, and it collected more than 9,600 signatures Monday morning.

In its petition, the film academy specifically asked world film festivals not to screen any films created in cooperation with the Russian Federation.

“Several films made by Russia are regularly admitted to the programs of most world film festivals, and significant resources are devoted to their promotion,” the Ukrainian Film Academy shared in its petition. “The result of this activity is not just the dissemination of propaganda messages and distorted facts. It also reinforces the loyalty of Russian culture – the culture of the aggressor state, which has unleashed an unjustified and unprovoked war in Central Europe. Even the presence of Russian films in the program of world film festivals creates the illusion of Russia’s involvement in the values ​​of the civilized world.

Many organizations have already accepted the boycott or agreed not to screen films funded by the Russian Federation. The list includes the european film academy, Toronto International Film Festival and Cannes film festival.

CIFF’s centerpiece “Navalny” involves Russia, but focuses on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he was poisoned in August 2020 by Russian security forces.

A Ukrainian film, “Klondike”, is included in CIFF’s 2022 lineup. The film focuses on Russian forces entering Ukraine, when a man and his pregnant wife find themselves near the border and struggle to stay safe. The film is based on the 2014 war in Donbass and the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The Cleveland International Film Festival will take place March 30-April 9 at Playhouse Square, and it will also be available to stream April 10-17.

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