Russia's Lawless Art Group Voina Wages Legal Warfare on Its Own Documentarian

Russia's Lawless Art Group Voina Wages Legal Warfare on Its Own Documentarian
Film still of Voina member Leonid Nikolaev in Andrey Gryazev's documentary "Tomorrow"
(Courtesy Moscow Film Festival)

If anyone would want to steer clear of the Russian legal system you’d think it would be the anarchist art collective Voina, whose members are routinely jailed for provocations like painting a 210-foot penis on a St. Petersburg drawbridge and overturning police cars. In August, three former members who went on to form the punk group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a prison camp for performing in a church. Voina (translating to “war” in English) openly rejects the rule of law, yet they have recently taken to the Moscow courts to sue filmmaker Andrey Gryazev for his 2012 documentary about the group, “Tomorrow.”

The film, which reportedly cost just $2,000 to make, follows the everyday lives of the artists as they plot future protests, pee on cars, and shoplift diapers for their youngest member, Kasper, son of Voina leader Oleg Vorotnikov and his wife, Natalia Sokol. The members clearly granted Gryazev broad access, but their lawsuit, filed in a Moscow court in November, claims they were led to believe that the footage was intended for archival use only and that distributing it violates their right to privacy. Voina is seeking about $33,000 in damages.

 

In an email translated from Russian, Gryazev called the action hypocrital: “Voina still decided to apply to the Moscow court despite the fact that they always claimed in interviews that they were against any censorship and never cooperate with the courts.”

ARTINFO’s messages to Voina’s attorney, Dmitry Dinze, and to the group’s website went unanswered. But it’s probably safe to say that members would object to the commercialization of their work. An artists’ statement notes that Voina “preaches renunciation of money and disregard towards the law (‘the no-whoring way’).” After the film won Gryazev the €5,000 ($6,725) Amnesty Award at Copenhagen’s documentary festival CPH:DOX, Voina sent him a letter demanding payment of the same sum.

Learning of Voina’s complaints, Amnesty International, the administer of the prize, suspended Gryazev’s award while lawyers investigated the matter. After about a month, Gryazev says that the festival’s director issued him an apology for the delay and handed over the award.

This was just one in a litany of attempts to quash the film — all of which have so far proven unsuccessful. Beginning with the debut of "Tomorrow" at the Berlin International Film Festival in Februray, Voina wrote a letter asking the event's director, Dieter Kosslick, to ban the documentary on the grounds that it made use of unauthorized footage. When confronted, Gryazev says that he produced a contract and on-camera permission from Vortnikov and Sokol. The screening proceeded as planned and Voina slapped Kosslick with a lawsuit seeking €40,000 ($53,800) in “moral compensation,” according to Gryazev, who, as a Russian citizen, couldn’t be sued in Germany.

The court ultimately rejected the complaint and reportedly ordered Voina to pay back €14,000 ($18,830) in legal expenses. Still, they went on to plead similar cases to the heads of the Moscow Film Festival and KinoKlub, the company that obtained distribution rights to the film in July. The charges escalated each time, Gryazev says, alternately claiming “that my entire video archive was stolen, that I forged their signatures, that I had threatened them, and that the film can serve as evidence for criminal prosecution.”

As of now, Gryazev says he is awaiting notice of the trial in Moscow. “It will be a long time before we talk about the end.”

Translations by Anna P. Gordon.