The Side by Side LGBT Film Festival wrapped up on November 30 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Festival was an act in courage by all who attended and participated, including the creators of the Oscar award winning film MILK, Gus Van Sant, Dustin Lance Black, and Bruce Cohen. The festival weathered bomb threats and evacuations of buildings.
The main highlight of the Closing Award Ceremony was a visit from award-winning filmmakers Gus Van Sant, Dustin Lance Black and Bruce Cohen, who engaged with the audience talking at length about the film MILK and the LGBT equality movement in the USA, Russia and around the world. Dustin Lance Black and Bruce Cohen will also be participants in the Uprising of Love coalition.
The MILK team presented a gift to the festival: a hand sewn rainbow flag with the words SUPPORT RUSSIAN GAYS created by Gilbert Baker – the creator of the rainbow flag.
The Side by Side Film Festival endured legal challenges under Russia's "anti-propaganda" law, which makes it illegal to hold hands, wear a rainbow flag, or even speak about being gay around minors. The law has sparked a wave of derision and violence against Russia's LGBT community.
As previously reported, the Opening Ceremony was delayed by a bomb threat. In total, the festival endured five total bomb threats, including at the Closing Award Ceremony. Just five minutes before the start of the Closing Award Ceremony the audience was informed that the building needed to be evacuated following yet another anonymous telephone call that a bomb had been left on the premises. The police checked the building, gave the all clear and proceedings once again resumed with an hour or so delay.
The Side by Side Film Festival released a statement saying, "We will follow through with the police, making sure that those guilty of making the hoax telephone calls are found and punished...Additionally, we will fight any court cases initiated by the homophobic politician Milonov. It has been claimed that on 26th November, 2013 he was involved in sending underage spectators to watch the film Blue is the Warmest Colour rated “18+” and therefore trying to stage a mock-up violation of the gay propaganda to law."
Several months ago, the Side by Side Film Festival asked GLAAD to help them invite entertainment industry leaders to show solidarity with Russian LGBT people by attending the film festival. Van Sant, Black, and Cohen jumped at the chance to be present, despite the challenges of anti-LGBT sentiment in Russia. They spoke to the audience about Russia's current situation and compared it to the not-so-distant past of the United States.
Van Sant noted that despite significant advances in the USA in the recognition of LGBT rights the situation was not perfect and there was still a lot of work to be done.
Black and Cohen reiterated their solidarity for the LGBT community in Russia, to stand by their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and not let crimes committed against them to be ignored but condemned and the perpetrators made accountable for their actions. Cohen continues to bring Harvey Milk's life and message to the public with his production of Andrew Lippa's oratorio "I Am Harvey Milk." You can check out the cast recording here.
Black reminded Russians that: “The world is watching” the developments in Russia.
Black and Cohen are founders of "Uprising of Love," which will engage entertainment industry leaders in supporting LGBT equality in Russia.
"So many films that Bruce, Lance, and Gus have worked on sparked real change in the United States, and I am proud that they represented our industry as ambassadors of hope to The Side by Side Film Festival," said Wilson Cruz, GLAAD's National Spokesperson. "Despite threats of violence, the organizers of the festival have found a powerful way to reach LGBT Russians and allies with images that can fuel change, and we join LGBT people around the world in thanking them for their work and courage."