US film paints Pussy Riot as new Russian revolution
Pussy Riot is more than just a punk band, and is seeking a "feminist revolution" in Russian society, according to the co-director of a film shown at the Sundance Film Festival this week.
Maxim Pozdorovkin says the group, whose members were jailed last year for taking part in a "punk prayer" at a Moscow cathedral, is against far more than just President Vladimir Putin.
"Their problem is not Putin per se. Putin for them symbolises an entire system of government, old-fashioned and patriotic," said Pozdorovkin, who directed "Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer" with Mike Lerner.
"Their target is much larger, they want a feminist revolution in society."
He was speaking to AFP at Sundance, the world's biggest independent film festival, held through January 27 in the ski resort of Park City, Utah.
"People think that Pussy Riot is a band. But they are an anonymous feminist collective, without a leader or an organized structure. There is not a set number of members," said Pozdorovkin.
Pussy Riot became world famous after its "punk prayer" protest in February at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
The show lasted only 40 seconds, but the arrest of Yekaterina Samutsevitch, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, along with their subsequent incarceration, sparked an uproar in the West and among some Russians.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened on their behalf before Putin, and artists such as Madonna, Paul McCartney and the Red Hot Chili Peppers also expressed their support.
"I was excited by this perfect storm coming together, religious fundamentalism, politics, the world of art," said Pozdorovkin, adding: "It's a story about what is accepted in society."
Using their own footage of the court proceedings as well as archival images of Pussy Riot's earlier performances, the filmmakers recount the story of the group's exploits and aims.
"Basically, the idea is to provoke a response. They don't actually perform in public. The meaning is that the next day they put a YouTube video of the performance with real music and that becomes the beginning of a conversation."
The film presents the group's first show in a beauty salon, which turned out to be a protest against the traditional image of Russian women, then on Red Square, as a political statement.
After the trial, the filmmakers follow step by step the debate in Russian society and present testimony by the young women's relatives.
"The story was huge, like a big soap opera, with everyone kind of discussing it," Pozdorovkin said. "For overall, the vast majority of Russians are against what they did, and they think that they probably got what they deserved."
But for the filmmaker, Pussy Riot members were first and foremost artists who should have been treated as such.
"One of the reasons this perfect storm became such a thing is because, in addition to the religious aspect of the story, Russia never had a punk-rock moment.
"They never had the 1977 'God save the Queen' Sex Pistols moment," he noted, referring to the iconic British punk band's song that spat in the face of respect for the monarchy.
Russia also lacked performance art, the filmmaker said, criticizing the clampdown on Pussy Riot as political.
"I think that the story has a lot of parallels with other revolutionary movements in the world," he added.
"Think about what happened with the Occupy movement in the US. It was tolerated by the government for some time and then it was shut down, and the government ultimately took the side of corporate interests.
"And in fact here, something similar happened. The government took the side of religious fundamentalists for the most part."
© 2013 AFP