Russian TV cuts off Irish director after backing jailed filmmaker

Johnny O’Reilly appearance on Life News cut after supporting jailed director Oleg Sentsov

Irish film director Johnny O'Reilly's interview with a Russian television station was dramatically cut short after he said Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov had been put in prison for political reasons.

Mr O'Reilly was being interviewed by Life News about his second film Moscow Never Sleeps, which has its premiere in Moscow on Wednesday evening.

Oleg Sentsov was sentenced on August 25th to 20 years in prison by a Russian court.

It found Mr Sentsov guilty of plotting terrorist attacks, charges his lawyers and supporters say were trumped up by Moscow to silence a director critical of Russia’s military actions in Crimea.


The European Union and the United States have condemned Mr Sentsov's detention and called for his release.

In September 2014, Ukraine’s National Council of Television banned 15 Kremlin-run channels, including Life News, for spreading war propaganda.

Mr O'Reilly opened his interview by noting it was Filmmakers Day in Russia, a day celebrating those who work in the industry, and said he "would like to wish all the best to one person in particular who has just been thrown in prison for political reasons: Oleg Sentsov."

“It’s important not to forget about him. Especially today,” he said.

The interview ran for another two minutes before one of the presenters, Ilya Kostin, abruptly interrupted actor Oleg Dolin, who was talking about the character he plays in the film, by saying "unfortunately we have to end this interview".

His female co-presenter Daria Rodionova appeared briefly flummoxed before saying the duo would be "back tomorrow with many more interesting themes".

Mr Kostin closed the programme by wishing everyone "happy smiles and good feelings".

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr O'Reilly, who has lived in Moscow for 12 years, said while he hadn't planned in advance to bring up Mr Sentsov, it had occurred to him that he should say something.

“I guess I went in there with the view that if the opportunity arose I might say something.. A lot of my Russian filmmaker friends feel very strongly about it,” he said.

He said there was an uncomfortable silence when the interview ended.

“We just wanted to get out of there… We left pretty quickly as we were both pretty eager to relieve ourselves with laughter at the whole thing.”

His described his film Moscow Never Sleeps, which was shown at the Galway Film Fleadh this summer, as a multi-narrative film, "a bit like 'Magnolia', set in Moscow".

"I love Moscow, it's the biggest city in Europe, it's an amazing city.. and I think that western audiences are not fully aware of this. And it's partly because much of the information that they receive about Russia is filtered through the gauze of politics.

“For me, I felt that I wanted to showcase the really special, unique spirit of this city to international audiences,” he said.

Moscow Never Sleeps will be be shown in 500 cinemas across Russia.

Mr O’Reilly said he believes the film will have a big impact as it has a political storyline about a character whose business comes under attack from government officials.

“We will see how it resonates here with the mainstream media if they pick up on it or some Russian politicians might decide to speak out about it,” he said.