David France’s latest film presents the unfiltered, distressing realities of LGBTQ+ Russians fleeing the torturous Chechen regime
In Welcome to Chechnya, investigative reporter-turned-filmmaker David France documents the efforts to rescue targets of the Chechen Republic’s anti-gay purge. Activists then secretly house the extricated victims in Moscow, typically staying for two weeks before fleeing Russia on humanitarian visas.
While the dire state of Russian LGBTQ+ rights remains the context of this work, France opts to dig into the often frightening manifestations of homophobia for the individual. Placed throughout the documentary are “intercepted” videos showing the torture of gay people under the regime of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. These videos include instances of Chechen authorities placing pressure on families to murder gay family members in “honour killings.” Though harrowing, the footage is essential if we are to comprehend the extent to which queer lives are endangered.
This severe peril is further evoked through the necessary use of facial reconfiguration technology. Deepfakes disguise subjects’ faces and voices even after they have left Russia because of the continuous threat faced by them and their families. But in one dramatic moment, the digital disguise of one brave escapee, Grisha, evaporates as he bravely goes public about his torture in Chechnya. For most, though, the risk is far too high.
Nothing about this documentary is without risk, not least the sequences involving rescue attempts. Hidden body cameras capture the mission to smuggle a lesbian out of Chechnya after her uncle threatens to out her to her father (a high ranking local official) unless she sleeps with him. The nail-biting tension of the operation puts to shame Hollywood’s glossy imitations, while also highlighting the heroism of the Moscow-based activists.
Progress made in the West with LGBTQ+ rights should not grant us the privilege to ignore struggles elsewhere in the world. Being gay is still illegal in 70 countries, and punishable by death in at least eight. Yet some believe the fight for gay rights is won. Welcome to Chechnya is a vital, detailed and horrifying counter to such delusions.
Welcome to Chechnya is on BBC Four on 1 July and will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer after its initial airing.Where to watch