Film/TV

David France's New Film Details LGBTQ Persecution in Chechnya

by Riley Runnells

Academy Award-nominated director David France known for How to Survive a Plague and The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is back with a new HBO original doc: Welcome to Chechnya.

The documentary, which follows the persecution of LGBTQ+ persons in the Russian republic of Chechnya, is nothing short of brilliantly disturbing.

Welcome to Chechnya documents the true nature of the repressive Russian republic and Chechnya's tyrannical leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who continues to fight against LGBTQ Chechens by detaining, torturing and murdering them. With little help from outside forces, a group of activists highlighted have made it their mission to rescue queer people in Chechnya by helping them escape Russia, all while avoiding capture.

The story is comparable to a modern-day underground railroad, and France has immersed himself in the atrocity, hoping to expose these horrors and raise global awareness of the genocide in Chechnya.

The documentary was first screened at the 2020 Sundance film festival and the 70th Berlin International Film Festival and won several awards, including the Sundance award for the US Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing as well as the Berlin International Film Festival TEDDY Activist Award. The documentary is set to air on HBO June 30.

Of particular note is France's commitment to protecting the identities of the subjects in his documentary. Rather than using the conventional method of blurring out faces or hiring other actors to portray the real-life events, the filmmakers used face-swapping technology called "Deep Fake" to disguise people. This way, the audience could see real faces with real emotions while the identities of the subjects were still protected.

The documentary will stream in both English and Russian languages with English subtitles and runs 107 minutes long. More updates about the documentary can be found on its official Twitter page.

The whole team behind the documentary was deeply moved in the process and, in turn, started an impact campaign in the hopes it will lead to much-needed change in the region. The campaign has four goals: provide support to those aiding escape; amplify the international outcry about the anti-gay pogrom; ensure governments provide appropriate visas and opportunities for persecuted LGBTQ+ immigrants; and encourage audiences to support the successful resettlement of LGBTQ+ refugees in their own communities.

Viewers can contribute to the documentary's impact campaign by seeing the film, donating to Global LGBT Human Rights, learning more about the anti-gay pogrom from the documentary's partners, Rainbow Railroad and Human Rights Watch and following the Welcome To Chechnya social media to stay on top of new calls to action and progress the film makes.

Photo via Instagram

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