Cablegate: Lgbt Film Festival Faces Continued Local Hostility

Published: Tue 8 Sep 2009 12:08 PM
R 081208Z SEP 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary. Last year's St. Petersburg LGBT
(Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) community "Side-by-Side" film
festival generated an intense media and political backlash, with
access to several planned film venues repeatedly shut down due
to strong political pressure. "Side-by-Side" organizers hope
for better results for their film festival this year, and report
that public discourse regarding homosexual rights is slowly
spreading to a wider audience in the city. End Summary.
2. (SBU) St. Petersburg's LGBT community developed the
"Side-by-Side" international film festival in 2007 as a way to
fight discrimination and to promote gay rights in the city.
Their goal was to use film as a tool with which to challenge
negative stereotypes of the LGBT community prevalent in St.
Petersburg. Organizers planned to present both documentary and
feature films, and, by reaching out to a large and varied
audience, attempted to place the discussion of gay rights at the
forefront of local discourse. At a meeting with both BPAO and
Poloff, the festival's organizers discussed the string of
difficulties they have experienced in this regard, and their
plan for moving forward.
2008 Film Festival Plans Severely Disrupted
3. (SBU) As originally planned, the first Side-by-Side film
festival was scheduled for October 4-5 in 2008, and Dom Kino, a
well known and prominent movie theater in St. Petersburg, agreed
to host the festival. However, the planned event produced a
strong outcry in the local media. Nikolay Burlyayev, actor and
president of the Association of Cinematographers for Slavic and
Orthodox peoples, was quoted during this period as stating that
the festival was a result of "the provocation of those who wish
Russia to perish," and Burlyayev urged Governor Matviyenko to
ban the festival outright.
4. (SBU) During the ensuing media storm, Dom Kino informed the
organizers of Side-by-Side that it had to close for renovations
and would no longer be able to host the festival.
Off-the-record, however, as related to us by the Side-by-Side
organizers, Dom Kino management revealed that pressure from the
St. Petersburg Cultural Committee had caused its change of heart.
5. (SBU) The festival organizers then turned to another local
theater, "Kinocenter Pik". Once again, soon after
advertisements went up and tickets were sold, the theater
informed "Side by Side" that technical difficulties would
prevent them from hosting the festival. Like Dom Kino, Pik's
director confided in the organizers that pressure from local
authorities, and not technical difficulties, was the reason for
the theater's decision.
6. (SBU) After deciding on smaller, and less prominent, venues,
the Side-by-Side organizers turned to two local clubs and began
again to advertise the event. This time, the festival was
cancelled less than twelve hours before the first film was
scheduled to screen when city firefighters arrived to shut down
both clubs down because of various unspecified safety
violations. Protesting these actions, the festival organizers
attempted to hold an impromptu press conference, but claim they
were prevented from doing so by local authorities.
7. (SBU) The organizers then rented two halls at the last
minute, and advertised the new locations by word of mouth and
text message only. Approximately 150 people attended each of
the five films screened and the discussion sessions held
8. (SBU) Since October 2008, Side by Side has continued to host
films at various small, unpublicized venues, with advertising
conducted mostly by word of mouth. Resistance and interference
from local authorities has been minor and sporadic.
Side-by-Side played a small role in the March 2009
anti-xenophobia film festival "Opened Eyes". The final day of
the three day festival focused on the problem of discrimination
against the LGBT community.
9. (SBU) Side-by-Side decided to take a more prominent role in
the June 2009 "Festival of Festivals" film festival. However,
theaters again balked at showing the Side-by-Side films shortly
after the events were publicized. Dom Kino did show the
originally planned five films, but only after Side-by-Side
agreed to cease advertising for them. This led to smaller
audience numbers at all showings, according to the organizers,
and reduced the possibility of discussion between individuals
with differing viewpoints on the issue of gay rights, which had
been one of Side-by-Side's main objectives.
10. (SBU) Side-by-Side's organizers then requested a meeting
with the St. Petersburg Cultural Committee to discuss their
concerns about perceived discrimination. The cultural committee
representatives stated they would not support any programming
that could be viewed as encouraging homosexuality or a
homosexual lifestyle. The organizers also were told that since
their activities were not of "general interest" to the city,
they would not be permitted to meet directly with the chair of
the committee.
Organizers Working Proactively to Prevent a Repeat in 2009
11. (SBU) Side-by-Side organizers are searching for ways to
offset possible interference by local authorities in this year's
planned upcoming October film festival. The organizers
currently plan to hold a seven day festival at seven different
locations which they believe cannot be closed. Foreign
consulates top their list of desirable venues, and Side-by-Side
has been discussing the matter with the U.S., British, German,
Swedish, and Norwegian consulates. The organizers also plan on
participating in another film festival hosted by the German
consulate in December.
12. (SBU) Side-by-Side, LGBT Network and the LGBT Organization
"Coming Out" have recently written a letter to the Saint
Petersburg Human Rights Ombudsman Mikhaylov, listing a range of
abuses that they allege have been committed against LGBT
organizations, businesses and persons. The letter calls for
greater governmental attention to such abuses, and requests a
meeting with and statement from the Ombudsman condemning the
13. (SBU) Additionally, Side by Side, with the support of LGBT
Network, has written a letter to the Council of Europe's
Commissioner of Human Rights. The letter details the various
challenges they have faced in dealing with the local
administration, and requests he issue a statement in support of
the upcoming film festival. They have also asked the
Commissioner to raise the issue with Vladimir Lukin, Ombudsman
to the Russian Federation, during their meeting in Samara on
September 3 and 4, 2009.
14. (SBU) The difficulties faced by Side-by-Side have focused
local and national attention on the local LGBT community.
Activists have become more visible since last year, and, in
December 2008, the first LGBT NGO ("Coming Out") was registered.
Coming Out has since published a regional report on the status
of discrimination against the LGBT community. Lawyers from the
St. Petersburg Human Rights Resources Center were able to assist
Coming Out through the registration process, and are working on
helping another NGO, "Gender-L," to register as well.
15. (SBU) Comment. Ironically, local government pressures on
the Side by Side film festival, along with media criticism of
the group, actually seems to have aided the LGBT cause here.
While the government and other groups might have hoped that
blocking the festival would have a chilling effect on discussion
of LGBT issues in St Petersburg, those efforts have been largely
ineffective as the organizers continue to promote their
festival. Also, the LGBT community now has its own NGO to help
fight for LGBT rights and document discrimination within the
city. We are working with Side by Side to host a film showing
that would highlight acceptance of diversity in sexual
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