Journey With a Movie Camera Though ‘Gay’ Eastern Europe

18/03/2011
Submitted by Viachaslau Bortnik

Logan Mucha is a young Australian documentary film-maker who spent several months last year in Eastern Europe filming his first feature-length documentary, East Bloc Love. He writes about his experiences, mainly in Belarus. East Bloc Love is now finished and us due for release after screenings at LGBT film festivals.

I’m gay, have a boyfriend and live in a country where a lot of LGBT people my age consider defending their rights secondary to going out and picking up.

It’s these sentiments that drove me to begin developing East Bloc Love, which has turned into something bigger than I ever imagined.

This is not to say that I never had ambitions for the film, however the journey in making East Bloc Love a reality has been as much an exploration of gay rights in other countries, as it has a personal exploration of my sexuality and its meaning to me.

After a fascinating visit to some parts of Eastern Europe several years ago, I felt compelled to return and explore the situation for the LGBT community across the former Soviet Bloc. I returned with a camera, a couple of microphones, and a very flexible concept for a film.

I began by living with a gay couple for three weeks in Latvia, where I quickly discovered the less than accommodating forces developing in response to an increasingly visible LGBT presence.

Let’s call these ‘forces’ more like remaining sentiments from the Soviet occupation, such as a strong religious presence, and a fear of losing national identify from the omnipresent ‘West’. It pushed me to explore deeper in my interviews and research however, it wasn’t until I went to Belarus that I realised this was the beginning of something much bigger.

I flew into Belarusʼ capital Minsk with my boyfriend, after some cryptic e-mailing with the unregistered and ‘illegal’ LGBT organisation GayBelarus. After unpacking in a glorious Soviet-era apartment block, I jumped into a taxi and handed the driver an address written in Cyrillic.

After being welcomed into the cramped apartment-cum-head office of their organisation, I was made to drink copious amounts of the mandatory-welcoming vodka in traditional Belarusian style. The small group of activists surprised me by their young age and passion for fighting for their rights. Most of them were younger than me.

I quickly became attached to Sergey Yenin, a twenty-year old Belarusian activist whose fluency in English quickly made him our translator to all that went on. We were opened to the world of GayBelarus as they prepared for Slavic Pride with the assistance of GayRussia.

It was to be the first pride event in Belarus in ten years and had already been banned by the authorities. We filmed everything, and documented stories from the activists, a drag queen, a pre-op transsexual and a rock musician.

The stories from Belarus, and the individuals from the other countries we visited, seemed to revolve around a central idea: visibility. For better or worse, they all grappled with the concept of visibility for the LGBT community, whether it was a Romanian princess who advocated gay rights, a Polish curator who showcased gay art in the National Museum, or the leader of a powerful anti-gay lobby group.

It turned into such a prominent theme that we focused our efforts on this concept and pushed the documentary to essentially explore the efforts and consequences of the increasingly visible gay community in Eastern Europe.

Questions began to emerge. Was society slowly accepting the charge towards visibility? What is the impact of LGBT activism in these countries? Do LGBT people in these countries even want to explore their rights?

Attitudes were in flux from person to person, from country to country, and showed how the East Bloc is still struggling to find its identity since independence.

Using an essentially one or two-person camera crew for most of the filming, we exploited our lack of resources to get closer to the stories that presented themselves. Our small presence allowed ourselves to work closely with GayBelarus leading up to their pride march, as we stayed with them on a daily basis and filmed all aspects of their preparations. We became close friends with the activists and so they let us into their lives. They exposed their heart-breaking stories with sincerity.

I still remember vividly when I was brought close to tears interviewing a pre-op transsexual who explained her need to prove mental instability to be granted a sex change operation and how she wishes she could leave the country she loved but could not. It culminated in me witnessing her request to join GayBelarus so she could fight for her rights; to defend her country.

Our intimacy allowed us to capture many similar personal stories; most demonstrating the oppression and pains they’ve felt just for being themselves. Although it seemed a desperate struggle, their determination and passion to march on the streets, to be visible, and attempt to gain some recognition for their rights left a strong impression, which is something, I have tried to constantly instil in East Bloc Love.

© 2011 Logan Mucha

Stay informed
For media
You are here: Home > Guide to Europe > Country-by-country > Belarus > Journey With a Movie C...