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A Filmmaker on Trial: Oleg Sentsov

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Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker, was arrested in May 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorist charges for speaking out against the unlawful annexation of his native Crimea. As a political prisoner, Sentsov is being held by the Russian authorities in a Siberian high-security prison beyond the Arctic Circle. On May 14th, he went on hunger strike in an effort to ensure the immediate release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.

On Oleg’s 42nd birthday, PEN America will host a Los Angeles screening of Askold Kurov‘s documentary​,​​ ​The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov, followed by a conversation with Mark Jonathan Harris, Daniel Treisman, and The Trial‘s producer Max Tuula, featuring special recorded remarks from Sabra Ayres.

Mark Jonathan Harris is an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and novelist. Among the many documentaries he has written, produced, and/or directed are The Redwoods, a documentary made for the Sierra Club to help establish a redwood National Park, which won an Oscar for Best Short Documentary in 1968. The Long Way Home (1997), a film made for the Simon Wiesenthal Center about the period immediately following the Holocaust won the Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary (1997). Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport was produced for Warner Bros. and won an Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary in 2000. In 2014, it was also selected for permanent preservation in the National Film Registry.

Harris co-wrote and co-directed Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine, about the revolution and war in Ukraine. The film is now available on Amazon, Vimeo, and Google Play.

Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (2003), an HBO documentary he wrote on slavery in America, was nominated for an Emmy for Nonfiction Special. In 2007, he produced Darfur Now, which was nominated by The National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics Association for best documentary of the year. The film went on to win an NAACP Image Award.

He also wrote The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing, a documentary about editing produced by BBC-TV, NHK, and STARZ, which is shown in film schools around the world (2004). In 2006, he produced Darfur Now, a film about the humanitarian crisis in Africa, which was nominated as best documentary of the year by the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics Association and won an NAACP Image Award. Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, a film he executive produced, premiered at the Venice film festival and was shortlisted for the 2011 Oscar for best feature documentary. Code Black, another documentary he executive produced about ER doctors, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival. Lost for Life, a film he produced about juvenile murderers who are sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, aired on both the BBC and the Lifetime Movie Channel in 2014. For the past three years he and Professor Marsha Kinder have led a team of filmmakers in creating a video intensive website on autism, www.interactingwithautism.com which was launched in September 2013. 

In 2010 the International Documentary Association honored him with their Scholarship and Preservation Award.

In addition to filmmaking, Harris is also a journalist and has published short stories and five novels for children. He has taught filmmaking at the School of Cinematic Arts since 1983.

Daniel Treisman is a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was educated at Oxford University (BA Hons. 1986) and Harvard University (Ph.D. 1995). Treisman’s work focuses on Russian politics and economics and comparative political economy. He has published four books and many articles in leading political science and economics journals including The American Political Science Review and The American Economic Review, as well as in the public affairs journals Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. A former interim lead editor of The American Political Science Review, he has also served as a consultant for the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and as acting director of UCLA’s Center for European and Eurasian Studies. In Russia, he is a member of the International Advisory Committee of the Higher School of Economics and a member of the Jury of the National Prize in Applied Economics. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford) and the Institute for Human Sciences (Vienna), and has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and the Smith Richardson Foundation. His latest book, The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev (The Free Press, 2011) was one of the Financial Times’ Best Political Books of 2011.

Born in Vladivostok, Russia, Max Tuula is an Estonian producer, whose credits include The Term, My Friend Boris Nemtsov, and The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov.

With special recorded remarks from:

Sabra Ayres is the Moscow correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, where she covers Russia and the former Soviet Union. Her diverse portfolio spans nearly two decades and several continents, with bylines from Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, Europe, and India. She is the winner of the 2016 Front Page Award for Best Foreign Correspondence. In 2016 she received a fellowship with the International Women’s Media Foundation to research Russian soft power tactics in Europe. She covered the Ukraine crisis from the revolution on Kiev’s Maidan square to the outbreak of war in the east of the country. Her work has been published in the Christian Science MonitorAl Jazeera AmericaThe Guardian, the Columbia Journalism ReviewThe New Republic, the International Herald Tribune, and the Daily Telegraph, among others. 

In addition to reporting and writing, Sabra has extensive experience in journalism teaching and training. She has taught journalism at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul and was a visiting professor at the India Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore.

Sabra was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine from 1995-97.

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