‘I don’t know what your beliefs can possibly be worth if you are not ready to suffer or die for them’- Oleg Sentsov, imprisoned filmmaker.

verity healey
verity healey
writer and filmmaker

“Redolent of Stalinist-era show trials” is how Amnesty International describes Crimean born Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov’s 20 year prison sentence.

Oleg Sentsov was sentenced by a Russian court accusing of him of terrorism in Crimea after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory and recognised it as an independent state in 2014. He and his co-defendant left wing activist Alexander Kolchenko’s trial, has been described as being “littered with irregularities” and a main witness for the prosecution recanted, stating that he had been tortured into making a statement against the film director.

Oleg Sentsov, 39, who also said he was tortured, has the support of Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov, who wrote in a blog post that Sentsov’s actions- which were to co ordinate relief efforts to help Ukrainian soldiers barricaded into their barracks by the Russian military- as being nothing more than ‘civil protest.’ Oleg Sentsov also strongly denies that he was involved in an arson attack and that he was planning to blow up a statue of Lenin in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital. In the UK, filmmakers Mike Leigh, Stephen Daldry and Ken Loach among others, together with the European Film Academy, have signed a letter pleading for his release- Oleg Sentsov has two young children who are currently being cared for by their grandparents. Before Oleg Sentsov was sentenced, he was held ‘pre-trial’ in Lefortovo prison and during this time Russia asked all permanent residents in the Crimea who are Ukrainian citizens to declare that they wished to remain so. Unable to make that declaration, Oleg Sentsov is now considered a Russian nationalist who has betrayed his own country, and is deprived of any Ukrainian rights. He remains locked up in a Russian jail and made this impassioned speech before the court before being sentenced in August this year.

Gaamer (Gamer)

On Monday, Frontline Club in London, an organisation set up to promote freedom of expression and support journalists, cameramen and photographers who risk their lives in the course of their work, showed Oleg Sentsov’s 2011 feature film Gaamer (Gamer) as a fundraiser for his children and to help with legal costs. The film first came to the attention of the industry at the 2012 Rotterdam Film Festival in the film strand ‘Bright Future.’

Trailer holder :

Below is a short review of the film.

Shot in Kyiv and Simferopol, Gaamer follows "Koss" (Vladislav Zhuk), a young video gamer intent on making it big in the industry. The film embodies a classic documentary style to give a sense of the everyday in the life of Koss, on the cusp of adulthood and living with his translator mother (Zhanna Biryuk) who also works in a shop to support them. What follows is a deconstruction of that gaming world (Senstov himself was a ‘gamer’) and Koss’ own disillusionment with it and himself as he experiences the highs and lows of the global competition forums.

The film can be characterised by its idiosyncratic camera technique. It combines obvious set pieces, sometimes beautiful cinematography, with a hand held, shooting from the hip style. Koss’ world in the gaming clubs is rough and documentary like, as if this is the dreary reality of his life, although the immediacy of the scenes brim with energy (many of the ‘actors’ are non professionals and are themselves gamers). This contrasts with the brief ‘TV’ish constructed like scenes in the games, which juxtapose again with the more carefully choreographed scenarios where Koss is at home, or alone experiencing moments of transcendentalism and epiphany. We are with Koss all the time, and gradually form a liking for this quiet, determined, singular minded and introverted young man.

As time progresses and as Koss grows weary of his success in the world of video games, success which many of his fellow students are unaware of, time seems to slowly start to space out. Realistic scenes are broken with contrasty strange dream sequences, as if Koss’ thoughts have suddenly become internalised and form a language of their own. They are not inhabited by the iconography that lurk in his waking life- i.e hard drives and control sticks and headphones and guns, but yet seem also idealised- cornfields with trees or, at the point where Koss loses his championship status in a game, a merry go round at a fair. Oleg Sentsov seems to be suggesting that fatherless Koss, whose dad rarely makes an appearance, lives in his own ‘gaming’ world that is infantalized and perhaps not even formed from real memories. The fact that both the ‘gaming’ scenes, where the audience enter for brief moments the architecture of the video games and Koss’ idealised memories are carefully choreographed, invites speculation that Koss is a dreamer and a fantasist at heart, unable to communicate with the outside world.

Koss is in a prison, there is no doubt. The last shot of the film surely pays homage to Truffaut’s 400 Hundred Blows and certainly invites comparisons. Yet there is something startlingly positive about the film’s ending- Koss listens to a song from a popular children’s soviet cartoon, where a frog boasts of his superpowers yet is continually brought down by the fates around him. It is a preparation for Koss and his entry into the adult world, where he must champion his talents and his beliefs and stick to them, even in the face of adversity.

If you wish to help Oleg Sentsov go here for information.


Below is a message from Oleg’s lawyer, Dimitri Dintze:

We ask that you do not give up and continue to rally in support of Oleg. Approximately 70% of the money coming in from your European side had gone to legal fees (legal fees, numerous trips to Moscow to the Crimea, and, of course, to Rostov-on-Don, as well as things like notarised translations of documents), approximately 30% went to the family and kids.

And once again letters in prison are very important to Oleg – he has almost nothing to do and without letters can only stare at the coffee grindings, and imagine what happens outside. Do not forget to attach the envelope to the response. 344082, Rostov-na-Donu, p.o. box 2710, Sencovu Oleg Gennadyevichu, born 1976.

Thanks again for the support, everything you do is very important.

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