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The Plight of a Brave LGBT Film Festival In Russia, and How To Support Their Mission

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | /Bent August 26, 2013 at 11:17AM

In all likelihood, you're well aware that the situation regarding LGBT rights in Russia has reached a horrifying state. In large part thanks to the fact that the Olympics are being held there in 2014, a significant (though not significant enough) outcry has been mounting all summer and will surely continue in the six months leading up to the games.
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The scene at the Side By Side Film Festival.
The scene at the Side By Side Film Festival.

In all likelihood, you're well aware that the situation regarding LGBT rights in Russia has reached a horrifying state. In large part thanks to the fact that the Olympics are being held there in 2014, a significant (though not significant enough) outcry has been mounting all summer and will surely continue in the six months leading up to the games.

But while it's definitely a good thing that the Olympics have raised awareness about one of the countless serious human rights battles occurring somewhere in this world, it's clearly not the only issue or even close to the most important one. Whether relatively LGBT-friendly countries -- and organizations within them -- boycott the Olympics (which looks highly improbable), or whether LGBT or LGBT-positive athletes who attend the games face persecution or even jail time and deportation are definitely matters to consider. But they are nowhere near as dire issues as the ones facing LGBT Russians themselves, who face violent persecution on a daily basis.

One organization that has fought back is Side By Side, an LGBT film festival in St. Petersburg. Since 2007, Side By Side (or Bok o Bok in Russian) has been working against all odds to bring LGBT cinema, education and community to Russians. And now they need your help. 

Back in June, Side By Side was faced with new challenges,  including the law concerning NGOs and their status of being a ‘foreign agent.' In relation to this piece of legislation, Side by Side has been prosecuted under the law and found guilty -- both as an organization and Manny de Guerre, its director. This has culminated in fines of 700,000 rubles ($21,000). Currently, Side By Side are appealing the court decisions, but given the circumstances, things don't look promising.

READ MORE: Indiewire Boycotts Russia, And Will Until LGBT Policies Change

"We believe that the court cases against us were politically motivated and we have been specifically targeted," Manny de Guerre told Indiewire in an interview last week. "Checks carried out by the prosecutor were illegal and evidence was flimsy. Any judge with an objective view would have thrown the case out immediately. The Russian courts prove time and again that it is not a place for justice."

Manny de Guerre at the Side By Side Film Festival.
Side By Side. Manny de Guerre at the Side By Side Film Festival.

Looking back, de Guerre said she felt urged to start the festival when she realized how little activism was going on at the time, and there was simply not enough places for LGBT people to congregate.

"In Saint Petersburg, the only places for LGBT people to meet were at clubs where people perhaps once or twice a week went in order to feel free and themselves," de Guerre told Indiewire. "Not everyone however wants to go to a club in order to feel free, and people need in their day to day life to be able to express and be who they are without fear or reproach. So the task in hand was -- and is -- to change the environment around us, to make it less homophobic and more tolerant to different ways of living."

In essence, this was the mission of the festival from the very beginning. De Geurre said that Side By Side is basically trying to create public platforms for discussion with society in order to "dismantle myths and obsolete stereotypes that continue to hamper the development of the LGBT community in Russia."