Statement on the approach to film from Russia 

With the publication of the program of the 53rd International Student Film Festival Sehsüchte, the festival team was contacted by a group of fellow students who demanded the exclusion of all works made in Russia from the Sehsüchte program. In a subsequent dialog between representatives of the festival, the university management and supervising teacher for Sehsüchte as well as the signatories of the criticism, we personally exchanged our views. In order to make our position as a festival transparent, we would like to outline the decision-making process to date. 

Since the start of work on the 53rd edition, the festival team has been discussing a strategy for dealing with films from the world’s current conflict zones. During discussions with professors, there was a particular focus on films from Russia. We are all concerned about the ongoing, cruel war of aggression in Ukraine and our deepest sympathy goes out to all the people affected by the war on the ground, here and everywhere. 

As a student film festival, we see ourselves as a platform for critical exchange about the works and the political contexts related to them. A diverse and challenging program should not only entertain, but also provide food for thought and open up spaces for discourse. We therefore consider a categorical, origin-based boycott of Russian filmmakers to be wrong. Instead of complete isolation, we think the right signal is to maintain connections, also in order not to deny independent creative artists the opportunity to express themselves critically – as far as they can – about the regime.

Instead of a categorical boycott, we have therefore decided to exclude films made at state-funded universities from the competition. We did, however, include films that we could not identify as having a direct connection to the state. Here too, however, the prerequisite was that neither the film nor the directors had any visible propagandistic motives or aggression.

We included a total of four films in the program: Two films made at commercial, non-governmental film schools were to be screened in competition. Two films made at state universities were placed out of competition. Other films were completely excluded from the program due to the selection process.

Following the publication of the program, a group of fellow students who had already publicly criticized the inclusion of the above-mentioned films contacted us and demanded that all works made in Russia be removed from the program. In a subsequent dialog between the festival team, the university management and the supervising teacher for Sehsüchte as well as the signatories of the criticism, we exchanged our points of view. In this discussion, the student group presented information about the films and universities that the festival team did not have at the time. 

Although the festival team is not supporting a general cultural boycott, it is very important to us to hear the voices of those affected and to take their objections seriously. Above all, the new information on the works is crucial for the new decision-making process. The new insights show that the films or universities are linked to more state support than was previously known. We understand the opinion of the Ukrainian students who feel let down by the showing of the films and have come to a consensus decision to remove the films from the program. 

In addition, ways of dealing with films from Russia and other regions of the world affected by war or crisis at future editions of the festival were developed in dialog.