CSO of the Week: Side by Side LGBT Film Festival

Week-ending 13 November 2020

On Thursday, 12 November 2020, police and staff of the Rospotrebnadzor, the government consumer watchdog, attended the opening of the annual LGBT film festival run by Side by Side in St. Petersburg and refused to allow it to go ahead. Side by Side [Бок о бок] is an organisation based in St. Petersburg.

According to the group’s website: “Side by Side aims to establish free open cultural spaces in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identified persons are able to affirm, question and extend their identities. We call for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and inequality based on sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Through the medium of high-quality, intelligent film we seek to create a forum for discussion with society at large dismantling myths and obsolete stereotypes that continue to hamper the development of the LGBT community in Russia. By generating a positive dialogue we endeavour to facilitate change, fostering respect of human rights of LGBT persons and fundamentally bringing about greater tolerance and broader acceptance of sexual minority groups within Russian society today.”

The Moscow Times, Friday, 13 November 2020: St. Petersburg police and officials from Russia’s consumer safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor disrupted the opening night of Russia’s only annual LGBT film festival, its organizers said. The Side By Side film festival has been subjected to numerous disruptions, bomb threats and protests in its 13-year history. Last year, the film festival’s opening was disrupted by bomb threats, forcing organizers to call off one of the scheduled film screenings. Police and Rospotrebnadzor employees arrived at Side By Side’s opening screening Thursday night and ordered festivalgoers to leave without giving an explanation why, festival organizers told the Mediazona news website. “The police came without giving any reason. Rospotrebnadzor had the right to impartially check for coronavirus prevention measures,” the Side by Side film festival’s spokesperson Alina Pchelintseva told Mediazona. “One police officer broke into the cinema hall and, using force and rude language, demanded that all visitors urgently leave the space,” she said. “The tough police actions forced us to cancel the film screening for the safety of the audience.”

The following text is taken from Wikipedia:

“Side by Side” Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival («Bok o Bok», Russian: Международный ЛГБТ-Кинофестиваль «Бок о Бок») is an international film festival that seeks to explore the issues of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender (LGBT) through art cinema. Since 2008 it has taken place every autumn in Russia, in Saint Petersburg. In addition, various special events are held almost every month, and since 2009 film showings and discussions have also been conducted in other parts of Russia. The Side by Side film festival aims to establish an open cultural space in which Russian society and the LGBT community can enter into a broad discussion and generate a positive dialogue, thus contributing to the struggle against discrimination based on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. In addition, the festival offers a space where homosexual and transgender persons can feel comfortable with themselves and affirm, question and extend their identities. The slogan of the film forum is “Different love, equal rights”. The film festival was founded by Manny de Guerre. The Side by Side festival staff are Manny de Guerre, Gulya Sultanova and Tanya Shmankevich. The festival program consists of three main sections, all of them with corresponding awards: feature, documentary and short film. Films are selected from the previous season’s film forums and through application process. The non-competition program includes a variety of events: unique retrospective screenings, exhibitions, photo competitions, book presentations, concerts, workshops etc. The screenings are usually followed by a discussion or lecture to reflect issues raised by the film and to discuss how they are projected in contemporary Russian society. Every event hosts special guests, well-known international and Russian experts in the field of art, sociology, psychology or human rights. They form a jury which selects the award winners in all three categories. The festival visitors can also vote for their own favorite for the Audience Award. The film festival actively seeks to attract volunteers during events. Over the years the film festival has been supported by the Berlin International Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Kiev International Film Festival Molodist, Goethe-Institut, the Danish Cultural Institute, the Swedish Film Institute, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Time Out journal, among others.”

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