PARIS, March 24, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - From Paris to Berlin, Los Angeles to Istanbul, Russian filmmakers who fled after the invasion of Ukraine are slowly rebuilding their industry in exile.
Many are happy just to be out.
"Maybe I won't be on any more red carpets, but at least I'm free," said Mariya Shalaeva, a 42-year-old actress and director who left with "two children and three suitcases" after being briefly arrested during an anti-war protest in Moscow.
Now exiled in Paris, Shalaeva worries about finding decent work again, but refuses to talk about material difficulties which are "nothing compared to the suffering of Ukrainians".
She is showing a short film at a mini-festival of Russian cinema in Paris this week, featuring the last spate of independent films from before the war.
Things have gone downhill fast for Russian cinema.
Just two years ago, a film like "Captain Volkonogov Escaped", which is sharply critical of the Stalinist period, had Russian state funding and premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
There is "no chance" that would happen today, said its producer Charles-Evrard Tchekhoff.
Its directors Alexey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova had told AFP in Venice that they were confident they could keep working in Russia. Today, they are in exile in Azerbaijan and no longer speak to the press.
- 'Managed to survive' -
Many of the country's best filmmakers are in a similar situation.
Oscar-nominated director Andrey Zvyagintsev ("The Return", "Leviathan") is in Paris.
Two promising young talents, Kira Kovalenko and Kantemir Balagov, have chosen Los Angeles.
Balagov had planned to set his next film in his native Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkarian. Now it will be New Jersey, where he can at least call on a sizable Russian diaspora.
"Historically, Russian culture has always managed to survive," said director Kirill Serebrennikov, a renowned theatre and film director who was targeted by authorities even before the invasion and now lives in Berlin.
The 53-year-old has shifted his next project from Russia to Latvia.
"Limonov, the Ballad of Eddie", starring Ben Whishaw, is the first big production from the new generation of Russian exiles.
Perhaps fittingly, it will tell the true story of a Soviet poet "who became a bum in New York, a sensation in France, and a political antihero in Russia".
Initially after the invasion, there was pushback against including Russians in European festivals and other cultural events -- some Ukrainians were outraged that Serebrennikov was selected for Cannes last year.
But "the vindictiveness has subsided," said film expert Joel Chapron.
The much-lauded director Alexander Sokurov presented his latest, "Fairytale", at the Locarno Film Festival last year, while a Chechen film, "The Cage is Looking for a Bird", played at Berlin last month.