Unable to leave Russia, director attends Cannes virtually

CANNES, France — Celebrated Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov is banned from leaving his home country, so he is attending the Cannes Film Festival virtually. Serebrennikov phoned into the red-carpet premiere of his film, “Petrov’s Flu,” by FaceTime and spoke to the media on Tuesday by Zoom.

A seat was left open for the 51-year-old director when “Petrov’s Flu” premiered Monday in Cannes. It wasn’t the first time Serebrennikov was forced to miss a Cannes premiere. In 2018, he was under house arrest when his film “Leto” debuted at the festival.

Serebrennikov is no longer under house arrest in Russia, but he’s unable to travel outside the country. He was convicted of fraud in 2020 and sentenced to probation and fined for embezzlement.

The verdict was seen as a success for artistic freedom in Russia – prosecutors had sought a six-year sentence in a penal colony – and concluded a high-profile, years-long legal battle for Serebrennikov, one of Russia’s most prominent theater and film directors. The case against him was protested widely throughout the Russian artistic community and internationally.

On Tuesday, Serebrennikov joined the middle of the news conference for “Petrov’s Flu” remotely while actors and producers appearing in person flanked the monitor. He joked that during the pandemic, everyone has gotten to experience a version of his isolation.

“My situation has much improved,” Serebrennikov said. “Last time, three years ago, there was no television. I was not with you, so it’s much better today. Everyone is getting used to this trend. I have become a Zoom personality. You are used to Zoom and I am, too.”

Serebrennikov wrote “Petrov’s Flu” while under house arrest, basing it on the 2018 novel by Alexei Salnikov about a flu epidemic in Russia. The film, which is in competition for Cannes’ top honor, the Palme d’Or, received glowing reviews at the festival.

On the Cannes red carpet, cast members and producers wore badges with the director’s photo and initials.

“Yesterday was a double celebration for us. We had at once the premiere in Cannes with the red carpet,” Serebrennikov said. “But I’m also shooting my next film in the studio. Where we are shooting, we set up a red carpet in order to be able to support the actors and team who are in Cannes.”