by Tien-Tien L. Jong
“Hopelessness is being gay in Russia,” so says the protagonist of Stand , one of the films programmed as part of the Spotlight on LGBT Films in Today’s Russia at this year’s Frameline film festival (now playing through Sunday, June 29). Here’s a quick guide to the Spotlight line-up, including 2 films coming up this weekend.
It would be challenging to find a more salient and urgent topic to address at this year’s Frameline considering the targeted decimation and destruction of LGBT visibility and rights that have taken place in Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the past 12 months. The four programs that make up this Spotlight series (2 dramas, 1 documentary, and 1 shorts program) come together to paint a striking picture of life in contemporary Russia for gay and lesbian individuals living in an increasingly hostile society since the critical passage of what has come to be known as the “Gay Propaganda Law” in June 2013, and should be considered essential viewing.
This important documentary, filmed in the months immediately following the passage of the 2013 Gay Propaganda Law, is an exploration of the Russian social and political climate of the moment, from the perspective of ordinary citizens (both homosexual and heterosexual), Vitaly Milonov (a principal sponsor of the bill in the Russian legislature), and Russian activists and journalists, including Anton Krasovsky (the first and only Russian news anchor to come out as gay on the air in 2013) and Masha Gessen—Russia’s leading LGBT activist, who struggles to stay in her home in Russia at the beginning of the film, but expatriates with her partner and adopted children to the U.S. by the film’s end after legislation is proposed to remove children from same-sex parents; as Masha says in response, “It does feel like a personal attack because there’s no other out family in Russia right now. We’re it.”
Campaign of Hate investigates the legislation and its implications, which makes the distribution of any “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” a criminal offense—a law which Masha Gessen jokes is vaguely defined, like other Russian laws, in order to allow for anyone to be charged with it at any time. The documentary also examines the role of the Russian Orthodox Church and the rise of social conservatism in Russian society since the 1990s—“Righteousness rules Russia right now,” Krasovsky says, and the film’s interviewees are split on what the future will hold and whether, like Masha Gessen, it is best to leave Russia or stay.
“As a stranger, I arrived / As a stranger, I depart.” Inspired by Schubert’s song cycle of the same name, this drama tells the story of two loners: Eric (Aleksey Frandetti), an introverted voice student at the Moscow Conservatory, and Lyokha (Evgeniy Tkachuk), an aggressive and off-putting young man who Eric nevertheless finds himself drawn to. Winter Journey presents viewers with a bleak vision of isolation and alienation in contemporary Russia, a society in which suppression of natural desires has become ingrained as not only a means of survival, but a way of life.
This shorts program includes three brash and funny films about women, lesbians, and “Russian Riot Grrrls”: the comedy short The Beginning (dir. Eleonora Zbanke, 2012, 6 min.) which imagines a Russia in which nobody is out; an episode from Lesbian Webisode (2013, 30 min.), a series described as “the Russian L-Word ” and originally intended for (but never broadcast on) Russian television, and the centerpiece of the program, Pussy vs. Putin (dir. Gogol’s Wives, 2014, 59 min.), a documentary about the feminist rock performance/activist group Pussy Riot.
A drama set in the aftermath of the Gay Propaganda Law, Stand tells the story of a gay couple who witness a possible hate crime. Anton (Renat Shuteev) is plagued by guilt after they drive away from the scene and convinces his boyfriend Vlad (Andrey Kurganov) that they must conduct their own investigation after the police drop the case. Stand is a thriller that argues for the vital importance of public outrage over private incidents of violence and makes a powerful statement about how fragile normalcy and safety are for everyone in a state that condones common acts of brutality. The film had its World Premiere at Frameline last weekend, and will be playing again on June 29, the final day of the festival.
In a former life, Tien-Tien Jong worked as the Director of the Dartmouth Film Society and as a coordinator for the shorts division of the Telluride Film Festival. She loves animation, silent film, and film noir, and has a soft spot for ballet and opera in British, French and American films from the 1940s-’60s. Her favorite theaters are the beautiful Paramount in Oakland and the Castro in San Francisco.