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by Dana Harris
August 26, 2013 1:05 PM
22 Comments
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Indiewire Boycotts Russia, And Will Until LGBT Policies Change

LGBT activist attacked during picket against homophobic bill on June 10, 2013 Roma Yandolin, licensed via Flickr under Creative Commons

Indiewire receives many kind invitations to attend festivals and other film events, but this is the first time we've been moved to flat-out boycott a request for our coverage. 

As you probably know -- and as Peter Knegt details here in his interview with Manny de Guerre, founder of Russia's LGBT film festival Step By Step -- Russia's policies toward the LGBT communities have become Draconian. So when I received a generous offer to be a guest at next month's DOORS International Film Market in St. Petersburg, there was no question that attending would be flat-out impossible. 

READ MORE: Que(e)ries: The Plight of a Brave LGBT Film Festival In Russia, and How To Support Their Mission 

I met one of the organizers, Eleonora Granata Jenkinson, during the American Film Market last year. She's terrific and tasked with the challenging assignment of bringing attention to the Russian film community. DOORS, which launched last year (Anne Thompson attended and covered the inaugural event), invites about 30 independent film executives to screen films and meet Russian filmmakers during the Message 2 Man Film Festival. 

Jenkinson has nothing to do with Russia's LGBT policies. However, the program she promotes is funded by two state agencies, Roskino and the Russian Film Commission USA. So that made it simple: Indiewire isn't going, and will have nothing to do with any state-backed filmmaking until Russia's policies change. 

Indiewire isn't the Olympics; as protests go, ours is unlikely to create much of a dent. However, it's our hope that DOORS will choose to cancel its 2013 program. For now, inviting the support of American independent film community is, at best, antithetical. 

Tony Safford, executive VP at Fox Searchlight, also attended last year and was invited to return. His letter of rejection is printed below, as is the one I sent. 

Your comments are invited. 

Dear Catherine and Eleonora, 

I deeply appreciate the hospitality that Roskino and the Russian Film Commission extended to me last year and had looked forward to participating in DOORS program this September.  However, because of the draconian laws enacted by your government against the LGBT community,  I cannot in good conscience accept your invitation.  To me, participation in the program indicates tacit acceptance – and certainly not protest against – your government’s overt and harsh repression of human rights.  To the contrary, I believe vocal protest is right now very necessary. 

I am well aware that your government’s position on LGBT rights may not be your own.  But you represent state agencies and hence the state itself.  Were I to participate, I still do not know what latitude of debate is possible, let alone the personal and legal safety guaranteed to me and any of my LGBT brothers and sisters who might be in attendance. 

Thus my own recommendation is to postpone DOORS until such time when the anti-LGBT laws are repealed and when open debate is possible.  If you continue with DOORS this year, my concern is that you will be entering increasingly turbulent waters of cultural and political consequence - for you as well as for any of the American media companies that may participate – that is against the spirit of DOORS itself.

I am sorry these issues hit you with full force but this is the moment in which we find ourselves.  I’ve attached a few notices which give further context to this. 

Cordially,

Tony Safford


Hi, Eleonora. Thanks very much for your invitation to attend DOORS, but I must decline. While I appreciate the generous opportunity, it is impossible for Indiewire to support this effort in light of Russia's current treatment of the LGBT populations. I recognize that you do not have a role in creating these policies, but we cannot accept anything from a state-backed organization as long as they remain in place.

I hope you will seriously consider canceling DOORS this year. There's real dissonance in Russia trying to draw the attention of the American independent film community, which prides itself on not only being inclusive but also celebrating gay rights. And as a journalist, I'm obliged to draw attention to this awkward contrast. 

Please let me know your thoughts on this. Again, I do appreciate the intent, but Indiewire can have nothing to do with DOORS until there's change in Russia's policies.

Sincerely,

dh

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22 Comments

  • MICHELLE | January 3, 2014 9:49 AMReply

    The only reason of this boycott is to flatter Tony and Dana' inflated egos. Because I'm 100% sure that none of them care of LGBT rights in Russia, the subject they know very little about.

  • kyle | December 5, 2013 2:57 AMReply

    Interesting you do not have such view toward Saudi Arabia that beheads gays and where it forbidden. Which Russia does not share that practice just public displays of gay pride in front of children.

  • Dmitry Musolin | August 28, 2013 4:12 AMReply

    Thank you for this decision and support of our fight here in Russia! Please make this decision and boycott public - people and mass media should know about this, and I mean international media, as Russian media will not publish this and make known to the Russian audience. Thank you again!

    Sincerely,

    Dmitry.

  • Jenni Olson | August 27, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    I'm grateful to know that Indiewire is an LGBT ally (but this has always been very clear and is evident in your dedicated ongoing coverage of LGBT film). But as some of the commenters below point out, cultural boycotts are really problematic. Film festivals exist to showcase films — films that facilitate dialogue about ideas, values, politics and who we are. Film festivals have always been one of the most valuable forums for communities to engage in this kind of discussion.

    The problematic aspect of this boycott is obvious when one reads your wonderful article about the Side by Side LGBT Festival in Russia — they, too, are in Russia. And obviously you (and we all) are 100% supportive of them. Why not write letters urging the DOORS festival to be inclusive of LGBT films and filmmakers, etc.? By shutting down dialogue you achieve the one goal of sending a message that we do not accept the anti-gay policies of the Russian government but there is no further dialogue to follow.

    Similarly (since a commenter below mentions the BDS movement), formal boycotts like the BDS-influenced boycott of Frameline (the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival) for accepting Israeli cultural consulate funds, achieve the goal of drawing attention to injustice in Israel and Palestine, but then create an unintended chilling effect on having actual dialogue about the very issues at hand (again, I get that it's coming from the right place I just don't think it is the best tactic).

    This said, if boycotting is your thing, of course I defend your right to do it. And I totally appreciate that Indiewire is trying to stand up and be helpful. Thank you.

    If anyone wants to be helpful to the Russian film community please give a donation to the folks at the Side by Side festival — it's really easy, just go to their website at Bok-o-Bok [dot] ru

    P.S. to Donald below — What shouldn't be accepted in Russia (nor here in the Indiewire message boards) is homophobia. Period.

  • Dana Harris | August 27, 2013 11:45 AMReply

    Thanks for all of the commentary. I want to make clear that we'll continue covering the political situation in Russia as it relates to arts and culture (and all that extends from it) -- but we can't support an event that's wholly supported by the Russian state, even if that event supports independent film. Also, as I said in the article and my letter -- Eleanor and her team have nothing to do with the policies and knew that I would be writing about this situation. I sent my rejection over a week ago and did not receive a reply.

  • pepe | August 27, 2013 11:34 AMReply

    So a news organization is going to stop reporting news from a country that has abhorrent political practices?

    A news organization would never do that. A outlet for PR shills might.

  • charlie | August 27, 2013 4:00 AMReply

    It's a nice gesture, but shouldn't you give the Russain filmmaking community and indeed the organiser of the event a right to reply?

  • donald | August 26, 2013 6:05 PMReply

    So, Indiewire should dictate to a country it's ethics? Why should Russia ACCEPT a DEVIANT lifestyle?

  • L Torchin | August 26, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    Personally, I find this decision disappointing to say the least. It should go without saying that I am opposed to the pernicious policies of the Russian government, but-- as with other cultural boycotts-- I am unconvinced that this stance is actually politically helpful. Cultural boycotts serve to isolate those (the artists, the cultural critics, the activists) who seek productive exchange. Boycott the Olympics, by all means, since that is a brazenly political/economic plug of national development, but refusing to cover those who may most need your voice to communicate with the world seems misguided and complacent at best. (I'd also encourage more historically-based thinking on the matter, and ask if a boycott of Russia will actually have the intended effect of these well-meaning journalists.)
    However, I am glad to see a colleague of yours supporting Side-by-Side, the LGBT film festival in St Petersburg, and think that's a far more productive an action; I hope others join.

  • David Mertz | August 26, 2013 5:02 PMReply

    A very good letter, and a very correct position. I hope IndieWire continues a principled position by taking the same stance to any invitations to festivals in Israel, and works for social justice with the BDS movement (as have many important journalists, academics, artists, etc).

    (www) (bdsmovement.net)
    "WHAT IS BDS? In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. A truly global movement against Israeli Apartheid is rapidly emerging in response to this call."

  • Brandon Judell | August 26, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    indieWire stands for first rate journalism. Can you imagine The New York Times or Le Monde or any other news outlet refusing to cover the events in a country? One would think indieWire could cover these events in a manner that explores the ongoing bigotry in Russia. The question is what does indieWire stand for? Is it a commercial enterprise selling product or is a news organ enlightening its readers? If it is the latter, start packing.

  • Rodrigo Brandão | August 26, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    I hope this is the beginning of a meaningful and supportive relationship between Indiewire and the LGBT community in Russia. Boycotting an organization to support an oppressed minority (specially if that community is in a foreign country) is a serious step that has to be followed by positive commitments to the people who are being "supported" by the boycott. This Wednesday, August 28, (at Times Square -- West 46th Street & Broadway -- starting at noon) RUSA and other Russian LGBT organizations in NY will be throwing their weight against Coca-Cola, the sponsor of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Care to join them?

  • bob hawk | August 26, 2013 2:54 PMReply

    Dana and Tony, I totally support your inevitably controversial stances, and I would hope that the Russian indie film community would understand as well. It actually might be a factor of challenge and empowerment for them. All movements -- for instance, the civil rights and gay rights movements in the U.S. -- grow incrementally with "small" gestures.

  • Jonathan McNeal | August 26, 2013 2:41 PMReply

    This is a great decision, and I hope numerous other businesses and organizations will follow.

  • stefan avalos | August 26, 2013 2:35 PMReply

    Uh yeah, that'll learn them. Boycott outlets for artists.

  • stefan avalos | August 26, 2013 2:35 PMReply

    Uh yeah, that'll learn them. Boycott outlets for artists.

  • Mona Nicoara | August 26, 2013 1:59 PMReply

    I think this is well-intended, but the only consequence may well be further isolation for the Russian filmmaking community, which I suspect was not what IndieWire set out to do. It might be worth talking through what is to be done with local partners to find out what helps the most. I would venture to say that it's a little bit like the vodka boycott, which hits Latvian private businesses the most. The only positive outcome there is that it makes those of us outside of Russia feel better.

  • Analee | August 26, 2013 2:27 PM

    I couldn't agree more. There are filmmaker - storytellers - in Russia who have absolutely nothing to do with these (bad) policies. The Russian government isn't primarily concerned with the arts, however, these festivals and organizations are. By losing support, you're not sticking to the Russian policy makers, you're sticking it to the people who are already suffering through those policies. I don't think a media boycott changes policies, but shining a big bright (GAY) spotlight just might... it's a lot harder to hide when all eyes are on you. I applaud people for taking a stand against these abhorrent policies, but maybe the better boycott is to show LGBT stories LOUD + PROUD outside Putin's front door, and in one voice - and with the support of the media - send a big "f - you" to those policy makers. Just a thought.

  • Jordan | August 26, 2013 1:56 PMReply

    Nice to know companies and journalists can still take principled stances and make statements.

  • jerome | August 26, 2013 1:54 PMReply

    well done!!!

  • Rabbi | August 26, 2013 1:41 PMReply

    Good for you!

  • Troy | August 26, 2013 1:26 PMReply

    Well done. You have my support, and I can only hope to presume the support of many others.