A small Moscow art house cinema that defied a Russian government ban on screening a British comedy about the aftermath of Stalin’s death ceded to mounting pressure from authorities on Friday to stop the film being screened.
The Pioner Cinema in central Moscow bucked official orders and premiered Armando Ianucci’s The Death of Stalin Thursday night, becoming the only theatre in the country to show the film.
However, authorities were waiting when the audience of a sold-out second screening emptied into the cinema’s lobby early Friday afternoon. As the patrons filed out, police went into offices and the projector room.
Several hours after the raid, Pioner wrote on its Facebook page that it had been forced to stop showing The Death of Stalin and offered full refunds to anyone who purchased tickets for the film’s 11 scheduled screenings — all of which were sold out.
Mitya Lebedev, 27, told The Telegraph that police presence had only served to amplify the film’s relevance. Gesturing at the growing crowd of uniformed police officers, he said: "It is really painful to watch all these people in uniforms trying to ban art for the sake of ideology or something."
He added: “I think the response would have been different five years ago,” he said. “Right now, history is the main kind of discourse of power in Russia, because Putin has no vision for the future so he has to consolidate power with the past.”
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The crowd was a mix of young Russians born after the fall of the Soviet Union and a few who were alive when Stalin died.
“Their reaction only elevated interest in this film,” said 22-year-old Andrey Piskov. “The same thing happened a few years ago with that Tom Hardy movie, Child 44,” he added, referring to a 2015 detective film set in Stalinist Russia. That film, too, was banned from release in Russia.
The Death of Stalin, which is a satirical depiction of the race to seize control of the Soviet Union following Stalin’s death in 1953, was deemed offensive and possibly extremist by members of Russia’s culture elite after a private Culture Ministry screening was held on Monday.
Before ceding to pressure from the authorities, Pioner was advertising screenings of the film until February 3. Tickets for each showing sold out quickly as they were added throughout the week. Those listings have since been removed.
As half a dozen uniformed police officers and several unidentified men in plainclothes made their way through the crowded lobby and into the theater’s back offices and projector rooms, a representative of the theater declined to comment on what was happening.
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An hour after the search began, a police photographer arrived and began taking photographs of the theater’s ticketing computers at the front desk, before disappearing into the back offices. A police officer on scene refused to comment on what was taking place.