A new HBO documentary exposes the horrors of Chechnya’s violent “gay purge” and the brave efforts of activists to rescue persecuted LGBTIQ Chechens.
In recent years, authorities have captured, detained and tortured numerous LGBTIQ Chechens for their sexual orientation in the Russian republic. A number have reportedly died.
Acclaimed filmmaker David France’s new doco Welcome To Chechnya exposes the brutal government-sanctioned crackdown, from the perspective of human rights activists David Isteev and Olga Baranova.
Isteev works for the Russian LGBT Network, while Olga Baranova runs the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives.
The pair are two of the brave Russians helping LGBTIQ Chechens reach safety through underground support networks.
The documentary reveals Chechnya’s “underreported atrocities, while highlighting an extraordinary group of heroic people confronting a brutal system,” HBO says.
“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.”
‘He’s going to kill me for sure’
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, a high-ranking Chechen official.
“He’s going to kill me for sure,” the woman tells Isteev on the phone.
Isteev and his team quickly to extract her before her family becomes aware of her disappearance. They put her in a safe house in an undisclosed foreign location.
Another resident, “Grisha,” was captured and tortured and explains the thought of his longtime boyfriend helped him survive the ordeal. After nearly a year apart, the two tearfully reunite in a secret safe-house in Moscow.
Later, activist Olga Baranova is herself forced to seek asylum outside Russia after authorities discover the nature of her work.
By the end of the film, the team have helped 151 people reach safety, with thousands of others remaining in hiding.
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:
Filmmaker David France began the project in 2017. He 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 “deepfake” technology to protect the identities of their Chechen subjects and their families.
They superimposed the faces of 22 American activists over the Chechen interviewees to safely keep their harrowing firsthand accounts in the film.
“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 France released The Death And Life Of Marsha P Johnson, profiling the trans icon of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. Stream it in Australia on Netflix.
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