Russia: Film about gay love approved by culture ministry and awarded two prizes despite anti-gay laws

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Russian film critics have commended the bravery of a film about two men falling in love for standing against anti-gay “propaganda” laws, after it was both approved release by the country’s culture ministry and awarded two prizes at separate film festivals.

The makers of a film called ‘A Winter’s Journey’ said they were disappointed it could not be shown at one of Russia’s main film festivals, Kinotavr, but added they were surprised that it has managed to get as far as it has.

President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.

‘A Winter’s Journey’ tells the story of a gay classical singer falling in love with a street-smart petty criminal.

Director Sergei Taramayev told AFP he was saddened it could not be shown at Kinotavr after receiving such high critical acclaim, as well prizes at two smaller Russian film festivals where it was shown.

He said: “For the organisers of the festival it was uncomfortable, because there is such a law, so they thought it was better not to get involved.

“At least people who were in the jury told us that this was the reason why we were not accepted for Kinotavr.”

The film’s co-writer Lyubov Lvova said festivals feared they could lose funding if they showed the film: “At many festivals, Russian ones, this scared the organisers a lot.

“They were afraid of this law, that it could stop them getting financing for their festivals.”

Mr Taramayev said they did not even submit the film to Russia’s main film forum, Moscow International Film Festival, because of its anti-gay organiser, Nikita Mikhalkov.

He said: “He supports the government’s line and is a very political director and we realised that they would not take us.”

Nevertheless, film critic Lidya Maslova said that the film would “look great at any European festival.”

The film won prizes at the Window into Europe festival in Vyborg in northwestern Russia in August and at Moscow Premiere in September.

The filmmakers also said it was a “miracle” the country’s culture ministry allowed it to be released in the first place.

Ms Lvova: “We still can’t quite believe in this miracle.”

Although critics predicted ‘A Winter’s Journey’ would only reach a small audience, it received high acclaim throughout.

Kommersant praised actor Yevgeny Tkachuk’s “natural” performance in the film, while Vedomosti business daily called the film “a very serious and subtle artistic statement”. Komsomolskaya Pravda called it “wonderfully talented.”

Dmitry Savelyev also praised the director for “not worrying about the danger of getting a reputation as a propagandist for influences that are alien to our people.”

The filmmakers said they chose to make the hero gay because this would emphasise his feelings of alienation.

Mr Taramayev said: “It underlines his loneliness and conflict with the world. That is why we made him gay, to make him more in conflict with society.”

He added: “We will put off a certain number of viewers, that is for sure. But when we made the film we were not counting on making a blockbuster for the broad public. It’s not the ‘Dark Knight’.”

Producer Mikhail Karasyov wrote in an email to AFP on Tuesday: “As for a cinema release, at the moment we are holding talks, but so far there is nothing concrete.”

In August British-born American actor Wentworth Miller came out as gay in a letter sent to the St Petersburg International Film Festival.

He wrote: “I am deeply troubled by the current attitude toward and treatment of gay men and women by the Russian government. The situation is in no way acceptable, and I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.”