From Belarus With Love
Risking violence and imprisonment, Sergey Yenin and other queer activists from GayBelarus push forward to present the country’s first public gay pride event. Australian documentarian Logan Mucha captures their courageous journey in the new documentary East Bloc Love.
As intrusive and sometimes dangerous homophobic encounters can be, by and large we have got it easy in Australia. We get on with our lives, we work to make them better and with a little luck, bigoted attacks will be a thing of the past.
That’s what Sergey Yenin hopes as well. A native of Belarus, he is in the vanguard of that country’s campaign for equal rights whose focus is a nascent pride march that takes to the streets of the capital Minsk. At least it will if Belarus doesn't arrest, beat or kill the protesters first. Reminiscent of Sydney’s legendary 78’ers, Sergey is determined to make a difference, to make bigoted attacks footnotes in history.
Australian filmmaker Logan Mucha met Sergey while travelling through Eastern Europe and it is Sergey’s story that forms the backbone of Logan’s documentary, East Bloc Love. Sergey’s passion is driven by personal tragedy – his boyfriend was shot dead in a vicious attack. Where such a calamity would be the end for some, it strengthened Segey’s resolve to face down the country's dictatorship, its skinhead thugs and religious conservatives.
But getting people to participate in the film proved to be a challenge, Logan says.
“Russian activists were coming to Belarus for their first pride march in ten years.”
Because such demonstrations had been outlawed, organisers were forced to meet underground. “It was very secretive, they are very paranoid about anyone tapping their emails or things like that,” Logan says. “They don't like talking to people they don’t know or don’t trust.”
In a scene out of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Logan was given a contact number and an address in Cyrillic. A taxi dropped him off outside a forbidding, Soviet-era apartment block on the edge of town, home to GayBelarus.
“At first, they couldn't understand why someone would be there, why I would be interested in them,” Logan recalls. “They were scared of talking or giving interviews to anyone.”
But with the help of Sergey, the group started opening up to Logan, allowing him to film, twelve hours a day for three weeks.
“There are a lot of stories I recorded that never made it to the film, in case it encroached on their personal lives.” Or put anyone in danger.
And there's a lot of material that did make the final cut. As Logan remarked: “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”. By contrast, here is a film about young men fighting for the right to love openly, freely, safely. For them, it is quite literally a matter of life and death.
[Pictured] Sergey Yenin in East Bloc Love.
East Bloc Love, part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival, screens on Saturday, February 18, 4.30pm, at Cinema Paris, Moore Park. Go to www.mgff.queerscreen.com.au.
MARDI GRAS FILM FESTIVAL TOP PICKS
Thom Fitzgerald (Beefcake, The Event) revisits Thelma And Louise with two aging lesbians (Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker) who escape a care facility, drive to Canada and get married. February 18,19 and 25
ROMEOS (Germany) [pictured]
Formerly female, Lukas is 25 testosterone shots closer to becoming male when he unexpectedly falls for closet-case Fabio. Lesbian Ine is fascinated. A “rule breaking, boundary busting” love story of hope and bravery. March 1
LET MY PEOPLE GO (France)
What do you get when a gay, Jewish, half French, half Finnish mailman with trust issues and poor bedroom skills accidentally kills and robs a client? Why, slapstick, gay-family-comedy of course! February 21 and 29
KAWA (New Zealand)
Rather than deal with his failed marriage, a Maori man spends evenings having anonymous sex with men. When outed by his family, the consequences are profound. Based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera (Whale Rider). February 17 and 25
FOUR MORE YEARS (Sweden)
David is shocked to have lost the 'unloose-able' election, but more shocked when this happily married man falls for his adversary's male advisor. Swedish political satire with a queer twist and not a dragon tattoo in sight! February 26 and 28
The Mardi Gras Film Festival, presented by QueerScreen, runs from February 16-March 1. For films, session times and locations, go to www.mgff.queerscreen.com.au.