Moscow film festival removes Armenian film shot in Lithuania

The Moscow International Film Festival has removed the Armenian film Gate to Heaven, directed by Jivan Avetisyan, from its non-competitive programme. The organisers reasoned that the screening could cause riots in light of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, its creators said.

Armenia and Azerbaijan renewed a military conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the Caucasus Mountains on September 27. In the afternoon of the same day, Kęstutis Drazdauskas, a Lithuanian producer who contributed to making Gate to Heaven, received a letter informing that the film was removed from the Moscow festival.

“In the words of the organisers, they were afraid that the movie could provoke riots. They promised to screen it next year if the situation [in Nagorno-Karabakh] normalised,” Drazdauskas said.

The story in the film centres around German journalist Robert Sternvall who covered the four days of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016. According to Drazdauskas, however, the movie was not political and used the conflict only as a backdrop for the story.

“There are a few scenes in the film where we see the injured. But there are no political statements or assessment of who is the attacker or who is in the right,” the producer explained.

He added that the festival’s organisers had been pressured to remove Gate to Heaven from the programme even before the recent fighting broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh. The renewal of the conflict was only a “catalyst”, he said.

❗For the attention of international artistic community❗ 🎥The film by Armenian filmmaker Jivan Avetisyan Gate to Heaven… Posted by  Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival   on    2020 m. rugsėjo 30 d., trečiadienis  

The movie was an international co-production of Lithuania, Germany, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, and the US. Three of the producers were members of the European Film Academy which “attests to the film’s quality”, Drazdauskas said.

Around one-third of the film was shot in Lithuania. Lithuanian actor Leonardas Pobedonoscevas also played one of the major roles.

The film creators sent a protest letter to the Moscow festival. They also turned to European cinema associations for help. While expressing protest is important, Drazdauskas said he did not expect the festival to reverse its decision.

“The ban is unacceptable because the festival’s selection committee chose the movie and did not deem it to be propaganda,” Drazdauskas said. “It is offensive not only to Armenia but to other co-producing countries as well.”

After the removal, many other film distributors and film festivals expressed interest in screening Gate to Heaven. The Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival called the Moscow festival’s move “censorship”.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have reported hundreds of deaths since the renewal of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh on September 27. The region is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is home to a predominantly ethnic Armenian population.


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