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Cold War, Stalin Films Honored; Tributes Paid To Sentsov, Serebrennikov

The Death of Stalin was one of the winners at the European Film Awards held in Spain on December 15.
The Death of Stalin was one of the winners at the European Film Awards held in Spain on December 15.

A black-and-white Polish-made film, Cold War, has won five awards, including best picture, while The Death Of Stalin took the prize for the best European comedy at the European Film Awards.

Tributes were also paid on December 15 in Seville, Spain, in honor of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and Russia director Kirill Serebrennikov, both of whom claim they have been unjustly accused of crimes by Russian authorities.

Along with the best-picture award, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, a romance set in the 1950s, also won for best director, best screenplay, best actress, and best film editor.

The British-made Death Of Stalin, directed by Briton Armando Iannucci, is a comic look at how Josef Stalin’s sudden death in 1953 threw the Soviet leadership into chaos and ignited a power grab among his top advisers.

"This is very brave of you. This movie was banned in Russia," Iannucci said as he accepted his award.

The Russian Culture Ministry banned The Death Of Stalin from cinemas, describing it as extremist, mendacious, and insulting to the Russian nation. The decision provoked international ridicule and heated debates in Russia over freedom of expression.

Sentsov has been imprisoned in Russia since opposing Moscow's takeover of his native Crimea in March 2014. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of terrorism in a trial criticized by human rights groups and Western governments as politically motivated.

The European Parliament on December 12 awarded Sentsov its 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. EU officials have called on Russia’s authorities to release the film director, saying he continues to be in poor health as he recovers from a 145-day hunger strike while in prison in a Far Northern Russian region.

Serebrennikov's August 2017 arrest drew international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities were targeting cultural figures who are at odds with President Vladimir Putin's government.

Serebrennikov had taken part in antigovernment protests and voiced concerns about the increasing influence in Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose ties to the state have increased under Putin.

The acclaimed 49-year-old director was initially charged with organizing the embezzlement of 68 million rubles ($1 million) in state funds granted from 2011-14 to Seventh Studio, a nonprofit organization that Serebrennikov established.

In January 2018, prosecutors raised the amount Serebrennikov and his three co-defendants are accused of embezzling to 133 million rubles ($2 million). All four defendants -- Serebrennikov, producers Aleksei Malobrodsky and Yury Itin, and former Culture Ministry employee Sofia Apfelbaum -- have pleaded not guilty in a trial being held in Moscow.

With reporting by Variety, Meduza, AP, and dpa
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