PARK CITY, UTAH -- "A Punk Prayer" from Russian band Pussy Riot has been in circulation for months as a rallying cry for feminism and political protest in Russia and worldwide. "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," the documentary on the phenomenon, only bowed last night at the Sundance Film Festival.
Katia Samutsevich, Nadia Tolokonikovoy and Maria "Macha" Alyokhina were arrested in March 2012 for their feral punk performance in a church, a musical plea to remove Vladimir Putin from power. Under charges of hooliganism, they were put in prison, though just this fall, Samutsevich's sentence was suspended, though the other two arrested women are carrying out their terms. Two other Pussy Riot members escaped from the incident and have thumbed their noses at Russian authorities from hiding.
This seemingly small strife made waves in the music community in America and elsewhere, as a cry for equality and freedom of expression. Acts like Madonna (in a big way) and Bjork made public stances against Pussy Riot's imprisonment, and came out in support of a lenient sentencing, if not having the charges dropped altogether.
Only three days ago, a judge refused Alyokhina's request to postpone her sentence, so the two remain in a criminal facility. But things have freed up for Samutsevich, who answered Sundance audiences' questions via Skype from Russia after the documentary debuted.
Co-director Maxim Pozdorovkin translated her answers to burning questions from fans and newswatchers:
While she was in prison, did she know about the global awareness the band's imprisonment was raising?
We did know that there was some sort of global awareness going on and we heard about it and as it got bigger and bigger, and with Madonna's performance and all these other things, we felt like there were other things coming our way.
Was there any resentment felt from the other two women who remained imprisoned, after Katia's sentence was suspended?
There wasn't really any feelings. And even til the 10th, we were all certain we were going into a penal colony together. As I remembered it, they were all very happy for me. I went to visit them the day after I got out, so I don't think there's hard feelings.
Are you afraid, or is the band afraid of any dangerous backlash?
No, I don't fear any specific backlash from the religious community because part of that was a mass campaign against them... and that was just mostly words and threats. In terms of the government response, [I] think that we're probably on several black lists and some extremism lists, and it may be in the future when we continue to do performances, we may have [charges pressed against us] for smaller things, smaller actions.
Does Katia have any hope that the other two girls' sentences will also be suspended?
There's hope and not all legal means have been used up, so they will continue to fighting so that all opportunities will be used up.
Have they ever released an album officially, and do they have plans to?
No, we reject commercialism of any sort, and we have no plans to release anything commercial... we will never commodify our art.
Right now in Russia, how much is still going on in regards to Pussy Riot?
Most of the battle is to get Nadia and Macha out of jail. The punk prayer was deemed extremist and ordered removed from the internet, so now they're repealing those decisions... it's a tough situation because of the repressive means that were used before, there's less of a drive than there was before for people on the streets.
There were two other people in the band that weren't arrested. What happened with them?
They're fine, they're in Russia (laughter).
What do the people of Russia think of Pussy Riot?
If you take just the average opinion, it tends to be overall negative of [us]. a\And part of the reason for this is because of the way the performance was presented it was considered almost exclusively as a religious act of hooliganism. So that's what most people tend to believe. Whereas the feminist and political aspect of our performance has been largely ignored and this points to the larger problem of cultural education that people don't understand it as a piece of art.