Winter Journey, LGBT Russian Film
Winter Journey, LGBT Russian Film

Queer-Friendly Moscow Film Fest Canceled After City Pulls Funding

A controversial queer-friendly Moscow film festival is being forced to take this year off. For twelve years, Moscow Premiere has showcased movies that Russian audiences would consider pretty edgy, including LGBT themes. The thirteenth edition of the fest was scheduled to open on September 2nd, but Think Progress reports that organizers abruptly had to cancel after the city’s culture committee pulled funding from the festival. Films left in the lurch include Russia-88, a film about Russian neo-Nazis, and Zimny Put (Winter Journey), a gay-themed feature about an aspiring opera singer who falls in love with the thug who steals his phone.

Vyacheslav Shmyrov, the head of Moscow Premiere, said that the festival is primarily a charity event. “Moscow Premiere is primarily a social festival and a charity project that exists for those people, especially the older generation, who can not afford to go to the movies.” Anyone can attend screenings for free with vouchers that are printed in a Moscow daily newspaper.

The city’s culture department cited economic concerns for the Moscow Premiere cancellation, but they will instead fund a new event, the ridiculously ominous sounding Youth Festival of Life Affirming Film, a four-day event that’s being organized by a Moscow city council member.

Russia passed a federal law two years ago that banned “the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.” While LGBT films aren’t explicitly banned, screenings of films with LGBT content have previously been disrupted by anti-gay protesters. The British film Pride, set in 1984, is the first gay-themed film distributed in Russia since the law passed.

James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Meanwhile, The American Embassy is doing its part to promote LGBT cinema. AmFest, a spotlight on independent cinema sponsored by the US Embassy, announced that later this month the multi-city showcase would screen I Am Michael, starring Zachary Quinto and LGBT aficionado James Franco. The film tells the true story of Michael Glatze, the one-time managing editor of twink magazine XY who later renounced homosexuality and became an ex-gay pastor.

For now, Russia does still have at least one queer film fest: St. Petersburg’s Side By Side festival has existed since 2008, despite continuous opposition from local governments. In its first year, local fire authorities closed down screening venues the evening before the festival was scheduled to begin, and officials frequently express opposition to the festival programming.

Side By Side’s website paints a surprisingly optimistic picture:

In spite of the hostility and resistance the LGBT movement over the last 3 to 4 years in Russia has started to make significant headway. Increasing visibility of the LGBT community, greater vocalization and observance of rights for LGBT persons, winning over the support of allies (human rights groups, politicians, civil servants, journalists etc) to the LGBT cause, tolerant and objective reporting on LGBT issues within the independent press and media and a greater willingness of the general public to take a more tolerant and unprejudiced stance toward LGBT persons are among just some of the gains.

Side By Side generally runs later in the fall.

(featured image: still from Winter Journey)

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