A new HBO documentary exposes the horrors of Chechnya’s violent “gay purge” and the brave efforts of activists to rescue them.
In recent years, authorities have detained and tortured thousands of LGBTIQ people for their sexual orientation in the Russian republic of Chechnya. A number of them have reportedly died.
Acclaimed filmmaker David France’s doco Welcome To Chechnya exposes the brutal crackdown, from the perspective of human rights activists David Isteev and Olga Baranova.
The pair are two of the brave Russians helping LGBTIQ people reach safety through underground support networks.
HBO says the documentary reveals Chechnya’s “underreported atrocities, while highlighting an extraordinary group of heroic people confronting a brutal system.”
“A small network of queer activists mobilized into action, smuggling people in need out of their communities, securing visas and sheltering them in safe houses,” a synopsis reads.
One 21-year-old victim, a Muslim lesbian given the pseudonym “Anya”, says her uncle blackmailed her for sex in return for keeping her sexuality hidden from her father.
“He’s going to kill me for sure,” the woman tells Isteev on the phone.
Both the Kremlin and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov (pictured) have denied the bloody anti-gay violence, despite survivors bravely speaking out.
The documentary will air on HBO in the US on June 30 during Pride Month. No word on an Australian airdate just yet.
Watch the trailer for ‘Welcome to Chechnya’ below:
David France began the film in 2017, and told IndieWire the survivors “knew it was not enough to get away” from Chechnya.
“This isn’t a campaign to send into exile queer Chechens. This is an ethnic cleansing of a sort,” he said.
“This is an effort to liquidate LGBTQ Chechens, as a way to cleanse the blood of the Chechen people.
“Even if they arrive in the West… if it were known they were still alive, they would be pursued.”
As a result, the filmmakers used new technology to protect the identities of their Chechen subjects and their families. They superimpose the faces of 22 American activists over the Chechen interviewees.
“I didn’t want to stylize them to the point of limiting the humanity they presented,” David France told IndieWire.
“I wanted the face doubling to be part of the editorial narrative of the story. They are so deeply afraid and thoroughly pursued that they have to hide their faces.”
Welcome to Chechnya is David France’s third LGBTIQ film.
The filmmaker scored an Oscar nomination for his debut doco How to Survive a Plague examining the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It’s available to stream in Australia on DocPlay.
Then in 2017 he released The Death And Life Of Marsha P Johnson, profiling the trans icon of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. Stream it in Australia on Netflix.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.