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Still from "PYOTR495"
Still from "PYOTR495"Courtesy of the filmmaker

This gay Russian film will probably never be seen in Russia

PYOTR495 is a gay horror about a teen baited over a dating app – but will it ever make it back to the Motherland?

PYOTR495 is an upcoming Russian language shock horror film by Canadian actor-turned-director Blake Mawson. Set in present day Moscow, the short follows Pyotr, a 16-year-old gay teen who is baited over a dating app by an ultranationalist group known for their violent abductions. Bolstered by Russia’s LGBT propaganda law, the group terrorizes and humiliates Pyotr, filming the attack in a plot taken straight from the headlines. But the attackers soon learn of Pyotr’s supernatural secret as he exacts a brutal and gory revenge. Here, we chat with the film’s director Blake Mawson about the very, very slim possibility of the film being screened in Russia.

What was the impetus for this project?

Blake Mawson: I wrote PYOTR495 in January of 2014. Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill had just been passed a month earlier, the Sochi Olympics were underway, and the media was loaded with images of targeted abductions and attacks against LGBTQ people. I wanted to respond with a scenario that I felt could have empowered someone in these seemingly hopeless scenarios. I wanted to take that anger I was feeling and have it manifest on screen in an explosive way.

Why did you decide to frame this film as a horror movie?

Blake Mawson: I think the horror genre has always been an interesting way to talk about what’s going on in the world. Look at films like Night Of The Living Dead or Frankenstein. There’s much more going on there than just the monster element. I find I’m much more disturbed by what’s happening in the real world in 2015 than by whatever gore I might see in a film, so I wanted to draw a close parallel between these two types of horror.

“The details of the attack within PYOTR495 are taken almost entirely from real documented abductions against LGBTQ people, videos that were publicly posted online” – Blake Mawson

Are you worried about the shock value potentially trivializing the real world situation?

Blake Mawson: I would say in PYOTR495's case, it is essential in helping us make our point. The details of the attack within PYOTR495 are taken almost entirely from real documented abductions against LGBTQ people, videos that were publicly posted online. I hope it causes people to ask themselves “How sensationalized is this?” while watching, only to later find out that it was based on something very real.

What developments have happened since you began following this story?

Blake Mawson: The media attention surrounding the LGBT Propaganda law and the reports on the attacks in Russia that we saw during the Sochi Olympics was very “all at once,” and then went quiet after the Olympics ended – but the brutality didn’t disappear when the foreign press left.

After being outed by Timur Isayev, an anti-gay activist who notoriously brags that he has had over 30 teachers fired for being LGBTQ, a Russian trans man was fired from his medical teaching job and then brutally attacked and sent into hospital. Last month in Moscow, an LGBT activist by the name of Irina Fet was kicked, punched, had her nose broken and was called a faggot by two men until some people on the street intervened. These are just a couple of the more recently publicized cases, and many others go unreported because this type of discrimination is supported by the Kremlin and state-controlled media.

What kind of research did you do preparing for the film? Did you speak with any gay Russians living in Russia?

Blake Mawson: I was interested in finding out what motivated the abductions and began by familiarizing myself with the different vigilante groups. I wanted to understand the logic behind them targeting gays, and how Russia’s newly-enacted LGBT Propaganda law had aided them in carrying out the abductions without having to face repercussions. I spoke with both LGBTQ and straight Russians, and I found that their perspectives were divided. Surprisingly, some straight Russians I spoke to actually told me that homophobia wasn’t really an issue at all within Russia, and that the rest of the world gives Putin a hard time and a bad name. But many of the LGBTQ Russians I spoke to had experienced discrimination or had friends who had upsetting experiences.

What do you think is the likelihood of this film being shown in Russia?

Blake Mawson: Given the LGBT Propaganda Law, there are fewer and fewer places to showcase gay content in Russia these days. Funding for outlets and festivals for LGBTQ content is being pulled, much like the situation with the Moscow Premiere festival being shut down last week. But I would like to think that there’s a place for it somewhere.

PYOTR495 is currently in post production and is running a crowd funding campaign to help finish the film. Click here to support