Side by Side, Russia’s LGBT film festival, is in trouble. This May the festival was charged by a local prosecutor with violating a new administrative code regulating non-profit organizations. The accusation, which the festival claims is entirely unfounded, is that Side by Side should register as a “foreign agent.” The trial took place earlier this summer, and on June 6th a judge ruled against the festival (after a whopping 10 minutes of deliberation). Finally, on July 26th, their appeal was rejected. The festival has been fined €12,500.
Given the last month of news, it’s almost surprising that Side by Side exists in the first place. On the one hand, the Russian film industry isn’t in very good shape. As Vadim Rizov explained earlier this week, Putin’s government and its Culture Ministry are essentially killing the Russian film industry with new funding rules and the pending introduction of a system of censorship akin to Old Hollywood’s Hays Code.
Meanwhile, there is the bigger news story of the summer: the government’s outright legal assault on its own LGBT citizens. In June, the State Duma passed a new federal law banning “homosexual propaganda,” the implications of which are grave and unsettling. The legal crackdown has already led to a crackdown on LGBT organizations like Side by Side, as well as the arrest of foreign tourists. And, emboldened by this state-sanctioning of homophobia, ultranationalist groups across the country have taken to public, violent assaults on individual gay youth, videos of which have already surfaced online. The big picture is as harrowing as it is shocking.