LGBT Film Festival Faces Bomb Threats and Cancellations

Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from St. Petersbrug Times :


The Side By Side LGBT film festival — now in its sixth year — has found itself the target of numerous bomb threats in St. Petersburg.

The police evacuated 1,000 people including 200 festival guests from the Warsaw Express trade and entertainment center, which contains the Prisma supermarket, the Karo Film movie theater, the Zal Ozhidaniya rock music venue and cafes after receiving a bomb threat one hour before the opening scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21.

Audiences from both the festival and the club, where a concert by American rock band Mindless Self Indulgence was due to take place, were forced to remain outside the venue for two hours as the police inspected the building for explosive devices.

A group of about 20 nationalists was seen near the building but remained at a distance, apparently due to the presence of police. The group was observed taking video and photos of those gathered for the event.

The audience was readmitted to the venue at around 8:40 p.m. Foreign diplomats who were present included the Consul General of the Netherlands Jennes de Mol and Consul General of Norway Heidi Olufsen, Swedish Consul General Jan Nyberg, U.K. Deputy Consul General Ben Greenwood and Political/Economic Officer Chad Norberg of the U.S. Consulate General, according to the organizers.

The delay caused the shortening of the opening ceremony, the cancelation of a planned reception for festival dignitaries and a Q&A session with Dennis Wielaert, the cinematographer of Diederik Ebbinge’s 2013 film “Matterhorn,” which was being screened at the opening.

St. Petersburg human rights commissioner Alexander Shishlov, who spoke before the screening, said that the Russian constitution proclaims equality for all citizens and warned against all forms of xenophobia. He pointed out that the language of art is more convincing than that of protest rallies. Shishlov also referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spoke against discrimination of people with “non-traditional sexual orientation” at his meeting with the leaders of non-parliamentary parties on Nov. 20.

A group of ultra-nationalists that attempted to enter the event, were kept out by security personnel and soon departed without incident. However, a confrontation was reported involving Anatoly Artyukh, the local chair of Orthodox nationalist organization Narodny Sobor (People’s Assembly) and an alleged aide to anti-gay Legislative Assembly deputy Vitaly Milonov.

According to LGBT rights activist Kirill Kalugin, Artyukh attacked him two hours ahead of the festival opening at a cafe located in the Warsaw Express building, where Kalugin had come to speak to a journalist.

“[Artyukh] came to my table and first attempted to pour my own coffee on me and then to tear the earring out of my ear,” Kalugin told The St. Petersburg Times.

“Once security guards came, he began shouting that I had tried to kill him.”

Kalugin said he had reported Artyukh to the police for the attack. “I think he will be charged with criminal misconduct and I hope to receive CCTV footage [of the attack],” he said.

Deputy Milonov condemned Side by Side via social media as being a festival of “pedophiles, homosexual creative workers and foreign agents [posing as] human rights activists.”

“The festival should be stopped,” Milonov wrote on Twitter. “If perverts are anxious to watch so-called films about their ilk, they can go to Paris.” He also condemned Shishlov for taking part in the opening.

“Ombudsman Shishlov took part in a sodomite and pedophile get-together,” Milonov wrote. “He has mistaken the perverts’ sexual urges for human rights. He has mistaken St. Petersburg for Sodom. I want to invite Shishlov to the Legislative Assembly and ask him what country he is working for.”

On the morning of Saturday, Nov. 23, the police reported the detention of a man described as a 37-year-old operator of a commercial firm, for making the bomb threat just ahead of the opening ceremonies. The police said he faces up to three years in prison for the “false report of a terrorist act.”

However, that same evening, the festival was halted due to another bomb threat. About 120 viewers were evacuated at 8:20 p.m. on Saturday from the Mesto Deistviya co-working space, located at the Etazhi Loft Project art center on Ligovsky Prospekt, where the festival held its afternoon and evening screenings of shorts and documentaries as well as discussions on Friday and Saturday.

According to organizer Gulya Sultanova, the police orders to leave the building came at 8 p.m., during a screening of short films. Both viewers and festival staff had to wait for two hours while the police inspected the venue. Although the program continued once the audience was readmitted to the venue two hours later, a screening of Negar Azarbayjani’s “Facing Mirrors,” the first Iranian film to deal with transgender issues, was moved to a later date.

Following the incident, Mesto Deistviya cancelled its rental agreement with Side by Side citing a decision by the owners of Etazhi, which led to the cancellation of the festival’s Sunday program. The program due to be screened at the venue on Wednesday, Nov. 27, was also canceled. It was later moved to the Green Lamp press club.

Two other possible incidents were also prevented by the festival, Sultanova told The St. Petersburg Times on Sunday. Three young men, who appeared to be neo-Nazis, tried to break in into the venue on Saturday with a video camera an hour ahead of the screenings. They were removed by security guards.

Later the same day, three apparent minors attempted to enter the festival, which is restricted to people over 18, something Sultanova believes could have been an attempt to have the festival blamed for promoting homosexuality to minors, an offence punishable under recent Russian legislation.

“[The anti-gay groups] act with total impunity. They have made it their objective to prevent us from holding the festival normally at any cost, which has led us to work closely with the police,” Sultanova said.

“There was a police presence both on Friday and Saturday. They had information that attacks were being planned. Our opponents realized that they could not carry out the attacks due to the presence of the police and our security guards.”

On Monday, a third bomb threat caused the evacuation of the Skorokhod theater at about 9:50 p.m., 20 minutes before the end of a screening of “Keep the Lights On,” the 2013 drama by American director Ira Sachs. As the police were checking the building, the organizers took the audience to watch the rest of the film in a nearby gay bar.

The 10-day festival is due to continue during the rest of the week at Skorokhod theater and concert venue, Jam Hall movie theater and Green Lamp. It is scheduled to close with the screening of Gus Van Sant’s 2008 film “Milk,” based on the life story of pioneering gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. Director Van Sant is due to take part in the event at Skorokhod on Saturday, Nov. 30.

Update: Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Anti-gay Legislative Assembly deputy Vitaly Milonov, representing the pro-Kremlin party United Russia, attempted to break into Jam Hall movie theater on Petrograd Side as a fourth bomb threat was placed against the Side by Side festival on Tuesday, Nov. 26. He arrived at the 8 p.m. screening of "Blue Is the Warmest Color," which was preceded by a speech by British Consul General Keith Allan, minutes after the start of the film and tried to enter the theater with about 20 anti-gay protesters. Milonov was prevented from entering by the festival’s security guards and police. Milonov stated to police that he had received a report that "children" were present at the screening of the "pornographic" film about an "old prostitute Adele" and demanded the police let him in to check the papers of those present. Despite being part of the festival the film, which won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes film festival, is being screened independently in city movie theaters this week.

About 20 minutes into the screening two young women left the cinema and showed their passports to the anti-gay protesters and the media standing outside so they could see their birth dates. They claimed that they were 17 years old, had got in without their age being verified and walked out due to the film's "sheer depravity." Five minutes later a young man exited the cinema, also claiming that he was 17 years old. Milonov announced that he would file a report with the police about the violation of the law protecting children from information harmful to their health and development.

Speaking to the website, Milonov admitted the minors belonged to the Young Guard, United Russia's youth wing, but denied that that he was behind the incident. "The teenagers went there on their own, voluntarily, as members of the youth organization," Milonov is quoted as saying. "They are partially capable, because they are over 16, and believe that they are cleansing the city from a pest. This is a stance."

Meanwhile the police evacuated the movie theater, which is located on the first floor of the massive Stalin-era Lensoviet Palace of Culture. The audience members were led out of the building via the second floor, where a theatrical production was in progress. Despite the bomb threat, the play continued and the audience was not evacuated despite being in the same building. The festival screening resumed shortly after 10 p.m. and continued without further incident.

Earlier, anti-gay nationalist groups announced a "total gathering" near the "homo movie theater" to stop the festival, but only about 20 activists showed up.

In a statement on Wednesday, representatives of Side by Side said they were "indignant at the fact that teenagers are being used by Milonov and his associates to entrap [the organizers]" and would file a report with the police over his "exploiting children by involving them in illegal and fraudulent activities."

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