Documentary explores the censorship of Russia’s LGBTQ population
Back in 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin passed a bill prohibiting the promotion or “propaganda” of non-traditional sexual unions to minors. Under the law, the young LGBTQ population is told, on a regular basis, that their sexual preferences make them sick, abnormal, and abhorrent to Russian society.
Lena Klimova, a Russian journalist well versed in the social struggle of LGBTQ teens, set up two networking and support groups with the title “Children 404”—a reference to the internet error message “Error 404: Page not found.” Almost immediately, teens took to the page to express their struggles with homophobia and the government’s censorship of their sexuality.
“As soon as I come to school, people start ramming it into our heads that people like me have no right to live,” one 17-year-old wrote. Another 16-year-old described missing two weeks of school in order to plan her own suicide. The project, on a whole, gave a glimpse into the harrowing lives of sexual minorities in a society that promotes intolerance.
When documentary filmmakers Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev saw the action in the online forums and read the testimonies of Russia’s suffering LGBTQ youth, they decided to produce a film to relay their struggles to an international audience. However, not only would the pair face preliminary financial roadblocks, but to produce a film of this nature—regarding “alternative” sexual conduct—was, under Russian law, illegal.
After reaching out to queer filmmakers and activists worldwide, the pair launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund Children 404 in conjunction with four Montreal-based gay rights activists. On a shoestring budget, and under the watchful eye of the Russian government, Kurov and Loparev succeeded in their production of a one-off film that recounts the struggle of LGBTQ youth in Russia—as seen and experienced by Russians.
The film’s main subject is 18-year-old Pasha, who experiences sexual discrimination on a daily basis at school. He recounts having coins thrown at him while walking in the school’s hallways, and a hidden camera in the school’s cafeteria reveals his fellow students calling out “faggot” and stating loudly that “this is how [Pasha] is greeted in his school.” With a population of nearly 2.5 million LGBTQ children in Russia, Pasha is the face of a considerable population of teenagers who face torment and the threat of violence on a daily basis. He considers leaving his homeland if only to find stability, love, and acceptance somewhere else in the world.
The film includes anonymous interviews with young people, parents and psychologists, and pulls heart-wrenching quotes from the initial Facebook posts on the “Children 404” page. Altogether, the film aims to promote a sense of empathy, understanding and tolerance in a state of government-endorsed discrimination.
Directors Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev will be in attendance at Cinema Politica’s screening of Children 404 on Monday March 23 at 7:00 p.m.