Since the release of his debut feature, 2012’s Oscar-nominated AIDS activism documentary “How to Survive a Plague,” filmmaker David France has charted a steady course as one of the most prolific and influential gay filmmakers covering LGBTQ issues. His 2017 follow-up film, “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson,” paid tribute to a transgender pioneer while investigating her mysterious disappearance. With his upcoming third feature film, “Welcome to Chechnya,” France is pushing the envelope yet again, debuting face-swapping technology to profile the LGBTQ activists fleeing devastating and sometimes lethal persecution in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Here’s the official synopsis: “This searing documentary is a terrifying real-life thriller that shadows a group of brave activists risking their lives to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ persecution in the repressive and closed Russian republic of Chechnya. In recent years, tens of thousands of LGBTQ people in the republic have suffered detention, torture and sometimes death at the hands of the authorities. But a small network of queer activists have mobilized into action, smuggling people in need out of their communities, securing visas and sheltering them in safe houses. Shot with astonishing access, largely with hidden cameras that keep rolling throughout every moment of escape, and employing a revolutionary face-swapping technique to protect the anonymity of its endangered subjects, this documentary exposes these underreported atrocities, while highlighting an extraordinary group of heroic people confronting a brutal system.”
“Welcome to Chechnya” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it received rave reviews for its gripping storytelling, unbelievable access, and timely and vital subject matter. The film picked up the festival’s Best Editing award, and soon thereafter received the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Berlinale.
Due to the highly dangerous situation in Chechnya and Russia, the faces of many of the film’s subjects are obscured using an overlay of another real person’s face. By using real faces, the effect is uncannily life-like, allowing the viewer to connect emotionally with the brave men and women profiled.
“Welcome to Chechnya” premieres on HBO on June 30. For a look at this vital documentary, check out the trailer below.