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Tomsk Administration’s Attempts to stop Lesbian and Gay Film Festival Prove to be in Vain.

Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival continuing its 2011 regional tour in Russia’s provinces came up against strong opposition from authorities in Tomsk, a city located in Siberia. The third of such regional film festivals (two having successfully taken place in Novosibirsk, 19 – 22 May and Kemerovo, 20 – 22 May, 2011) Tomsk proved itself to be not as tolerant as its neighbouring Siberian counterparts and hours prior to the start of the festival venues: the Academy of Photography and Hotel Bon Apart, received telephone calls from authorities (as yet unidentified individuals) threatening them with measures against them if they continued to support the film festival.

Festival organizers, in spite of the short notice, moved the festival to an alternative venue. The festival was held in its entirety and over the course of the three days 24 – 26 June, 2011 conducted screenings and discussions addressing a range of issues including coming out and LGBT rights. Guests of the festival were Iben Haar Anderson and Minna Grooss Danish directors of the film “Hello, My Name is Lesbian” who took part in a Q & A with the audience. The public was informed about venue changes through social network sites, sms messaging and by word of mouth. Although there was a degree of influence, these limitations did not influence greatly on attendance figures and the festival opened with a full audience and the remaining festival days were highly attended.

A major outcome of the weekend’s events was the attention the festival attracted in the media. A local channel TV 2 covered the unfolding Friday events in their entirety delivering objective news reports. The following day Festival Director Gulya Sultanova participated in a 10 minute interview at prime time on the channel’s news program.

An unexpected guest speaker of the festival was Sergey Kuzmin organizer of Pink Flamingo the very first LGBT film festival held in Tomsk in 1996. At an impromptu talk and audience question and answer Sergey told of his experiences and the attempt to hold Pink Flamingo. “The film festival faced strong opposition,” he recalls “throughout the 7 days of the festival one hundred or so members of the Baptist church picketed the cinema standing with placards and icons forcing festival visitors to pass through their barricade.” In the days after the festival Sergey was arrested and seriously beaten by police sustaining injuries that have had long term effects on his health to this day.

The regulations charter of Astarta the NGO through which Pink Flamingo was organized were confiscated by the authorities. To this day they have not been returned. This, coupled with the psychological stress and physical injuries incurred by key organizers put an end to LGBT activism in Tomsk in the immediate years after.

“Working in close cooperation with local based organizers in Tomsk and volunteers we were able to hold an enlightening, informative and very much needed event with both local experts and international guests. The authorities actions are completely arbitrary in relation to both the festival organizers as well as venues – private companies – which had happily agreed to cooperate and work with the festival. A city which stakes claim to being tolerant and open has seriously tarnished its image not only in the eyes of its local citizens but the international community. The action taken against the festival by the Tomsk authorities will not go unmarked and we intend to raise the awareness of the incident to both the Russian public and international community” stated Manny de Guerre and Gulya Sultanova.


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