The Moscow Premiere festival has been scrapped in favour of a more ‘positive, youth-orientated’ alternative
Russia’s long running avant-garde film festival, Moscow Premiere, a champion of Russian LGBT and anti-fascist cinema, was cancelled this week and replaced by a “positive, youth-orientated” alternative. Moscow Premiere was a trailblazer; not only was it free to anyone who wanted to go, it consistently pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to be screened in Russia by selecting films that are often rejected from Russia’s largest film festival, Kinotavr, and banned from wider release, such as 2013’s Winter Journey, which focuses on the homosexual relationship between a singer and a street thug.
On face value, nothing seems particularly sinister about a change to a new youth focused festival – but this change shines a light on Russia’s LGBT scene. The new festival is being run by Yevgeny Gerasimov, a high-ranking member of Putin’s Kremlin, and it’s fairly likely, if not certain, that the vital, thought-provoking work showcased by Moscow Premiere will not be on the agenda. Moscow Premiere film critic and organiser told newspaper Noviye Izvestia that there was no way he could “affiliate” with new plans, “not least in terms of self-esteem.”
Self-esteem is crucial here. The decision was abrupt – one day it was going ahead, the next day funding was pulled. It’s a humiliating state of affairs for filmmakers and members of Russia’s LGBT community. By cancelling Moscow Premiere, Russia have actively attacked the value of radical cinema. Winter Journey struggled to get commercial screenings throughout the country due to the ban on gay propaganda (that basically means anything and everything) – without the assistance of the festival, it’s likely it would never have reached Britain. Erik and Lyokha kiss once in the entire film – but it was a landmark moment in Russian film, and the new ruling makes it far less likely we’ll be seeing another one any time soon.
The Youth Festival of Life Affirming Film, its replacement, sounds about as dystopian as it can possibly get. Essentially, it’s illegal to show people under 18 any movies about homosexuality in Russia; so this emphasis on youth is a covert way of informing ground-breaking filmmakers and interested viewers not to bother. Earlier this year, Russia also cut the line-up of the Moscow International Film Festival, but most of the films cleaved were those with any themes deemed undesirable.
LGBT cinema is at a premium in Russia – with something like one film a year exploring these themes given general release. Before the release of Pride, there was the stunning Blue is the Warmest Colour. Both films were rated 18 plus. Both were, therefore, box office flops. It squeezes creativity and strangles expression. When Moscow Premiere couldn’t debut a film with a limited release, it ran Second Premiere, which gave these undernourished films space to be seen.
Despite the problems of distribution, radical Russian cinema has a small, but powerful scene. This is why Moscow Premiere was so important – it made a point of being one of the very few festivals to debut anti-establishment film – such as 2009’s Russia-88, a mockumentary about Russian neo-Nazis and 2014’s Corrections Classs. Both films challenge the status-quo; Corrections Class, the first film of 26-year-old director Ivan I. Tverdovsky, focuses on the struggles of special needs teenagers to prove themselves to be “normal”.
Non-actors are thrown in with trained performers, people with distinct and complicated issues like Down Syndrome and bipolar disorder are thrown together in a single class and treated, brutally, like identical problems. Scenes are filled with the lingering threat of violence. Any instance where the kids may be about to find happiness is swiftly destroyed. But a sense of hope runs throughout the movie, a glimpse at a better future, if only more people would – or could – listen. It won multiple awards and gained international popularity – but without its original screening, none of that may have been possible.
The Youth Festival of Life Affirming is planned to run from September 4th. The line up is, as yet, unknown, but it’s a safe bet it won’t be challenging the status-quo to such an extent.