WELCOME TO CHECHNYA
(director/writer: David France; screenwriter: Tyler H. Walk; cinematographer: Derek Wiesehahn/Askold Kurov; editor: Tyler H. Walk; music: Evgueni & Sacha Galperine; cast: Olga Baranova, David Isteev, Maxim Lapunov; Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David France/Askold Kurov/Alice Henty/Joy A. Tomchin; HBO Documentary Films; 2020-in English, Russian & Chechen)
“It’s an incredible modern-day horror story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Filmmaker David France (“The Life And Death Of Marsha P Johnson”/”How To Survive A Plague”) completes his trilogy on gay-themed films with this hard-hitting investigative journalist piece on how desperate life has become, after a drug raid in 2017 Chechnya, for the LGBTQ community, where one of the dealers was queer and had a cell phone filled with names of other queers. Those arrested were forced to give up other names of queers or be tortured or possibly made to disappear. The LGBTQ community in the Russian republic of Chechnya, the mostly Muslim country that broke away from the Soviet Union, became the subject of mass arrests, raids and torture in prison camps.
The grim tale is co-written by the editor/producer Tyler H. Walk. It features harrowing stories from some of the human rights vics, who use aliases, hide their faces and disguise their voices when interviewed. If picked up by the homophobic Chechynan police, they are fearful that they will likely by abused.
The downbeat documentary investigates the ongoing current plight of the Chechnyan LGBT people. As their government turns against them, we observe the brave efforts of community activists and organizers to “extract” them from the region. One activist leader is the director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives, Olga Baranova, who runs a secret shelter in Moscow that houses the vics. The other is David Isteev, the Crisis Response Coordinator of the Russian LGBT Network, who works inside Chechnya to help the vics deal with their difficult situation or escape to a different country.
Because he’s trusted, France has an open line to both the activists and queers, who provide the film with enough stories so you see how truly genocidal is the situation.
The opening story tells of a young lesbian woman who takes the name Anya and lives at home, whose nervous voice we hear on the cell phone with David. She tells him her evil uncle found out she’s a lesbian and wants to have sex with her and if she doesn’t he’ll tell her gay hating father, a high-ranking official in the government, who would be overcome with shame if he learned the truth about his daughter. He might kill her or turn her over to the police to be imprisoned. David tries to find out how she plans on handling the situation and if she wants to stay at the safe house in Moscow to flee the country.
We learn that in the two year period after 2017, the activists, who risk their lives daily, helped 151 vics relocate to different countries.
It’s an incredible modern-day horror story, as France’s splendid expose film tells the world of the ongoing anti-LGBTQ purge in the Russian republic of Chechnya. The sobering documentary lets us see how cruel people can be in their bigotry and how there are some brave people willing to risk their lives to save the helpless ones. We clearly see that there are severe human rights violations in Chechyna that the U.N. needs to act on, and we see the craven far-right extremist thug, the Chechyan leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, as he laughs about the social cleansing situation when interviewed on international television and mockingly says there are no gay people in his country.
REVIEWED ON 7/13/2020 GRADE: B