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Officials ban first Russian screening of Pussy Riot film, A Punk Prayer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 2:34am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 2:34am
 

The first public screening in Russia of a documentary about the activist group Pussy Riot was cancelled by the government at the last minute, organisers say.

The film, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," was to have been screened in Moscow yesterday afternoon, less than a week after two members of Pussy Riot were released from prison.

Their two-year sentence, on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for performing a protest song in a Moscow cathedral, was commuted under an amnesty from the Kremlin on Monday.

But on Saturday, the directors of the Gogol Centre, a state-financed theatre, received a call from the authorities threatening their jobs if they screened the documentary, said Maxim Pozdorovkin, who directed the film with Mike Lerner. A letter from the Department of Culture in Moscow formally banning the screening followed.

I thought once I got past the border it would be safe to [show the film]
DIRECTOR MAXIM POZDOROVKIN

The letter, which was posted online by one of the centre's directors, accused the artists and filmmakers involved of being provocateurs, and said their brand of culture had no place in a government building.

The role of art, it said, "is to save the world, make it better, not to inflame the public with scandalous stories that have no cultural merit". "Let's hold tight to those principles," it concluded, "and keep everybody safe."

"The letter is amazing," Pozdorovkin said after arriving in Moscow from his home in New York with several copies of the film hidden in his luggage. "I thought that once I got past the border", it would be safe to proceed with the screening.

The event was organised with just a few days' notice once the amnesty was granted for Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Since their release from separate prisons, the women have continued to criticise President Vladimir Putin in remarks that have been broadcast widely in Russia and abroad.

On Saturday night, the women, Pozdorovkin and others gathered in a supporter's apartment in Moscow, debating how they should proceed.

"In the view of the Cultural Department, we're such amoral persons that we can't perform," even on film, "within a government structure", Alyokhina said.

The cancellation follows two other scuttled screenings in Moscow, Pozdorovkin said; both also called off at the last minute, possibly under pressure from the authorities.

The film was released in the United States in the summer, and shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination in the documentary category this month. The Pussy Riot case has proved tantalising for Russian authorities; in March, immigration officers, Cossacks and police officers raided a Moscow theatre where a Swiss director was staging a re-enactment of the Pussy Riot trial.

The show went on.

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