Van Sant to Headline LGBT Film Fest
Spanning four different venues around the city, the Side by Side festival will include feature films and documentaries.
Published: November 21, 2013 (Issue # 1787)
American film director Gus Van Sant is expected to headline Side by Side, the annual St. Petersburg-based LGBT rights film festival, which is back despite legal pressure from the Russian authorities and a worsened climate for LGBT people in Russia.
Opening on Thursday, Nov. 21, the 10-day festival will take place at four different locations in the city and include feature film and documentary screenings as well as discussions. Van Sant will be present at the screening of his 2008 film “Milk,” based on the life story of pioneering gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. The film’s co-producer Bruce Cohen and script writer Dustin Lance Black will also be present at the screening of “Milk,” scheduled for the festival’s final day on Nov. 30.
Now in its sixth year, the festival opens during a bad time for the local LGBT community after a law discriminating against LBGT people was signed by President Vladimir Putin earlier this year. LGBT organizations have been subject to inspections and court battles, LGBT rights rallies have been shut down, a state-owned television channel described LGBT people as “perverts” and LGBT activists were attacked by anti-gay Orthodox and nationalist radicals.
“It was difficult to get film directors to Russia this year, because people see what is happening here, and of course everyone is terrified,” co-organizer and co-founder of the festival, Manny de Guerre, said. “I made proposals to many directors and unfortunately they said, ‘We don’t want to come.’ Russia has made created publicity for itself. They are frightened, they see violence everywhere, that’s the main reason. People are worried.”
Dutch film director Diederik Ebbinge, whose 2013 film “Matterhorn” won a number of awards at the 35th Moscow International Film Festival in June, withdrew after hearing about the Nov. 3 shooting attack on an LGBT community center that apparently left Dmitry Chizhevsky, an activist with the Libertarian Party, blind in one eye. But according to the organizers, the film’s cinematographer Dennis Wielaert has confirmed his own participation.
“Everything depends on the focus, on how you view it,” Side by Side director Gulya Sultanova said. “The situation has worsened, on the whole. The theme of homophobia has become a very populist one and is now being used by the authorities to deflect attention [from real problems] to something else; to show that there is some enemy that obstructs things. Also, there’s rather powerful lobbying from the Russian Orthodox Church in campaigning against LGBT people. It exists and is exaggerated very strongly now.
“On the other hand, the more active this homophobic campaign becomes, the clearer it is to people who have not yet lost their minds that this is a terrible situation. It all becomes more visible, and I can see clearly that we are gaining more supporters, more people who are ready to back us. This year, despite the campaign and homophobia being sewn in society, we have got great partners who were apprehensive but still decided to come out and support us. I am speaking of Russian partners, first of all. These include venues that have something to lose, and this year we have more media partners than ever before. That means that society is starting to assess the situation and make decisions. Many people have started resisting.”
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