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article imageSentsov: Film director turned political prisoner

By Anna Malpas with Olga Nedbayeva in Kiev (AFP)     Aug 25, 2015 in World

Oleg Sentsov, jailed by Russia Tuesday for 20 years on "terrorism" charges, is a promising young film director who financed his first movie from the proceeds of his children's computer and video-gaming club.

His first movie, "Gamer," was made on a budget of just $20,000 in 2011.

It tells the story of a teenage boy who wins success with video gaming but at the same time struggles with everyday life growing up in a provincial Ukrainian town.

The film was financed by Sentsov's job running a computer gaming centre in the main Crimean city of Simferopol. He himself had spent many years taking part in gaming competitions.

The film, which Sentsov wrote, directed and produced, was shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2012 as well as several other European festivals.

At the time of his arrest in May last year, he was preparing to make a new film, "Nosorog," or "Rhino" with financing from a German film fund.

A who's who of the film world including Spain's Pedro Almodovar, Germany's Wim Wenders and Russia's Andrei Zvyagintsev lined up to protest at Sentsov's prosecution.

But to no avail.

The 39-year-old was convicted by a Russian military court on Tuesday of carrying out arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea after it was annexed by Russia in March last year, and plotting further attacks, including blowing up a Lenin statue in Simferopol.

When the popular uprising against Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych erupted on Kiev's Maidan Square in the winter of 2013-14, Sentsov took part.

He then opposed Russia's annexation of his native Crimea and organised pro-Kiev protests.

Sentsov always backed peaceful protest, Kostyantyn Reutskiy, a Ukrainian activist who collaborated with Sentsov at the time told AFP.

He described Sentsov as "reflective, responsible and full of initiative".

"Oleg was always for methods of peaceful resistance. There were more radical activists, but he was always against that."

"Oleg organised drive-through protests in Crimea with cars decorated with Ukrainian flags and symbols," Reutskiy said.

"Oleg and his supporters painted walls with Ukrainian symbols and hung up Ukrainian flags."

In court, Sentsov was a lanky self-confident figure, smiling and joking with supporters and wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Glory to Ukraine."

"He jokes a lot. All that's left for him is to use humour," his cousin Natalya Kaplan told AFP.

After the verdict, she admitted: "I wasn't hoping for a miracle, but maybe just 10 percent of me was. Basically this is Russia, that's clear."

- 'Sentence doesn't scare me' -

During his trial, Sentsov defiantly told the judges: "I don't consider this court a court at all."

He said an investigator had promised him a 20-year sentence right from the start.

"This sentence of 20 years doesn't scare me, because I know the era of the rule of the bloody dwarf (Presdient Vladimir Putin) will finish sooner than that in your country," he said in court.

The author of a volume of short stories published in Kiev last month, he talked to supporters about reading opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta in jail and then watching Russia's most propaganda-filled news show as a contrast.

In his final statement in court, he quoted Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov's cult novel "The Master and Margarita."

He recounted how Pontius Pilate, the biblical figure who is a character in Bulgakov's novel, comes to realise that cowardice is the "greatest sin."

"I agree with him. Cowardice is the most important, the most terrible sin on Earth," Sentsov said.

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