Alexander Sokurov (film director)
Question: What's your first reaction to the news about holding the LGBT film festival in Saint-Petersburg, in Russia?
I have no reason to react somehow specifically to the news of the festival. The Constitution of the Russian Federation firmly guarantees the right for all citizens to conduct political, humanitarian and economic activities. Nobody has the right therefore to ban the festival as long as no amendments are made to the Constitution. As a cinematographic event the festival is very important. It’s important to demonstrate different types of films despite all the peculiarities of its program.
Question: In your opinion, to what extent and how will the film festival touch LGBT questions in Russia, and what influence will it have upon Russian society in general?
This is a very difficult question for me because I don't know what the problems of the LGBT community are. The only possibility for any festival to influence the public is to programme films of high artistic quality and not ones which are purely thematically or ideologically orientated. I'm sure that such kinds of festival should demonstrate more than just the subject of homosexuality.
Question: How helpful and effective do you consider the art of cinema as an instrument to start a discussion on LGBT problems with the society?
It seems that this is only way to influence. I can't say how effective it could be. I think you have a clearer view as organizers. I suppose education, enlightenment and propagation of these ideas are helpful.
Question: To your mind, which key problems exist in Russian LGBT community and how close could the film festival approach to solving them?
I'll have to repeat myself - I don't know anything about the problems of this part of society except the extremely aggressive and prehistoric intolerance shown by the majority. It's a hard question, a tragic problem. Evidently, it's a torturous life. The LGBT festival can surely explain something of the life and inner world of these other different people. There are millions of completely different people. Maybe nothing more is needed. Each separate group of people should have its own space; and between these spaces there should be a neutral space in between. This land should be taken care of and not trespassed upon; it must be the duty of all interested parties.
Question: What's your attitude to the assertions of some people who reckon this event as scandalous; the LGBT community a "perversion"; and homosexuality in general a "sin" and "disease"?
I think that nobody has the right to discriminate against another person according to a particular kind of characteristic. Discrimination is a crime against humanity. The fight against discrimination is the basic principle of European civilization. Homosexuality is not an illness, from my point of view, it’s just a different organization of the body and soul. This difference is a result of the development of life and it is as unique and divine as any other forms of existence. This is what people finally have to accept finally.
Igor Kon (professor, doctor of sociology and history)
I believe the idea to hold an LGBT film festival in St. Petersburg to be very good and timely. This theme occupies an important place in the cinematography of the world, and members of the so-called sexual minorities always played an appreciable role in the arts. Many movies they have produced meet with success even in the Russian movie rental business and some of them, at times mercilessly cut, were shown even in the Soviet times. Unfortunately, not everyone understands that the artist's sexuality and the esthetic value of his creations are far from being the same thing. If you come up with a good selection of films and, if necessary, provide commentary for complex films, this will also have educational value. The cavemen who are laboring to obtain a ban on the teaching of Darwinism and wishing to bring same-sex love back to the status of unspoken vice are not fighting for morals and national traditions. They just want to close the window to Europe. I think that St. Petersburg is not the most suitable place for that. Peter had built it with a different intent.
Sarah Waters (writer)
I'm very excited to hear that an LGBT film festival is to take place in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Film festivals like this are a wonderful forum for the celebration of queer art, and for the strengthening and celebration of the LGBT community. They are also a great way of opening up debate around issues of sex and sexuality - something which is particularly necessary in a society like that of Russia, where LGBT people still face an enormous amount of hostility. Russian society is clearly in a state of change. The labelling of gay people as sinners and perverts, and of homosexuality as an illness, is a form of out-dated thinking which can have no place in a tolerant, diverse, intellectually curious culture. LGBT film festivals take place all over the world. The annual London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival began, like Side by Side, on quite a small scale, and in the face of much homophobic opposition; it is now a vital and well-respected part of London's cultural landscape. I hope Russia's LGBT community will enjoy Side by Side as a celebration of its right to live and love and make art in its own way. I also hope that straight audiences will seek out the films in the festival, in a spirit of interest and support.
Peter Tatchell (British gay human rights campaigner)
Side by Side is a pioneering film festival that opens a new dimension to the intellectual and cultural life of the Russian people. Exploring issues of sexuality and identity, it reaches out to both queer and straight people, offering new understandings that can help bridge the sexual divide.
I am honoured and proud to support this festival, and congratulate the organisers for their commitment, vision and courage.
Those who condemn Side by Side are ignorant and narrow-minded. How can they denounce something they have not seen? The true sinners and perverts are those who preach prejudice and discrimination against their fellow Russians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Hate is not a family value, nor is it a Russian value.
Many great Russians have been gay or bisexual, including Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Eisentein, Modest Mussorgsky, Nijinski, Sergei Diaghilev, Nikolai Gogol, and Rudolf Nureyev. The Russian people should celebrate their gay history with pride
Eytan Fox (film director)
Eytan Fox at the Internet Movie Database
I am very happy that my movie The Bubble will participate in Side By Side. As a gay artist it is important for me to bring my art to places where gay issues are still a big debate. In Israel and France The Bubble reached mainstream audiences who enjoyed the story and the way Tel Aviv is described in the movie. I know that in Russia the gay issue will be the main thing. But it's ok. Maybe one day, in the future, I hope that in Russia too people will be able to enjoy it without the gay part taking over. I know it will take time.
Gal Uchovsky (writer, producer, actor)
Gal Uchovsky at the Internet Movie Database
I think Side By Side will be a great opportunity to discuss gay issues in Russia and Israel. In recent years we see in Israel that the Russian immigrants have a very conservative (to say it in a polite way) about Gay issues. As a group the new citizens from the USSR are the most biased and ignorant in terms of excepting and understanding gays and adjusting to the new climate that prevails in Israel in that sense. I am looking forward to visit and take part in this event and maybe find out more about the reasons that the Russian society finds it so hard to except us. It will be a pleasure to talk and show people that being open to gay issues is easier then they think.
Basil Tsiokos (NewFest: artistic director, Sundance: documentary programming consultant)
Question: What was your initial reaction to the news that a LGBT film festival is to take place in Saint Petersburg, Russia?
I was slightly surprised, in that my own limited knowledge of LGBT visibility and acceptance in Russia in general led me to believe that the general public would not be especially supportive. At the same time, since LGBT film festivals are perhaps the fastest growing types of film festivals around the world, I figured it was inevitable that one would appear sooner or later.
In your opinion to what extent and in what way will such an event strengthen and facilitate the LGBT cause in Russia?
As with most social causes, visibility is a very important factor in educating the general public and simply just making the unknown familiar and therefore less threatening, so the existence of a visible public event celebrating and advocating for LGBT persons and issues is potentially incredibly influential to changing people's perceptions. And since film is an inherently visual medium, an LGBT film festival is doubly effective in fostering visibility - from its sheer existence and through each film it shows.
How useful is it to use film as a medium to open up dialogue with straight society and explore LGBT issues?
Film can be incredibly effective in showcasing both the lives and issues of LGBT people. For straight audiences, LGBT films can offer a window into an experience different from their own, allowing them to gain insight and to challenge stereotypes and preconceived notions. A film festival can provide a necessary forum to facilitate conversation and debate.
Question: What are the key issues affecting the LGBT cause in Russia and how can this film festival help to begin to address them?
My understanding of Russian LGBT life and issues is very limited, but I believe that there is a great deal of hostility directed to LGBT people, for religious, political, and social reasons, which results in a lack of openness by LGBT people. This lack of visibility is directly addressed by a public venue to screen LGBT films and to allow for the congregation of LGBT people and their supporters in a celebratory, social setting.
Question: How willing and in what capacity are you personally prepared to lend your support to this event?
I've already met with the Side By Side organizers and offered my experience and knowledge of running NewFest: The New York LGBT Film Festival for the past 8 years, and am happy to lend further support when called upon.
Question: What is your reaction to those people who have branded our film festival "scandalous", named us as "perverts" and deemed homosexuality as a "sin" and an "illness"?
These are the kinds of people that would best be served in viewing real images of LGBT lives to combat their stereotypes. Sadly, it is very hard to reach these types of people.
Question: What impact have such film festivals had in your own country? What do you perceive as their major achievements and is it possible to reproduce such successes like that here in Russia?
While LGBT film festivals in the US are now very commonplace, that is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first such festivals, in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, among others, were able to bring a public visibility to LGBT art and life, and, in the early days of AIDS, helped to mobilize audiences to a very serious issue. The issue of visibility continues in LGBT festivals that have been started in smaller cities in towns in the US, where growing LGBT communities there stake a public space. As a corollary to this kind of visibility effect, LGBT film festivals have also contributed to the "discovery" by corporations and advertisers of the LGBT "market", helping change the ways LGBT people are viewed as consumers. These are certainly aspects that could eventually be duplicated in Russia and other nations.
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