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Russian film festival director fined thousands for screening queer love story in worrying overstep of ‘gay propaganda’ law

Patrick Kelleher October 29, 2020
Russia gay propaganda Outlaw Spirit of Fire film festival

Still image from the film Outlaw, which led to a Russian film festival director being fined over a violation of the country's gay propaganda law (YouTube)

A film festival director who screened a film about a gay teenager has been fined under Russia’s infamous gay propaganda law.

Larisa Zhuravleva was fined 50,000 rubles for showing director Ksenia Ratushnaya’s film Outlaw at the Spirit of Fire film festival in March.

Zhuravleva told Znak.com that she only learned of the fine, which was imposed in August by a court in Russia’s Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, when a bailiff contacted her and asked why she hadn’t paid it.

Outlaw went on to win the festival’s top prize despite the fact that several scenes were cut and it was only screened for over 18s in an effort to comply with the country’s harshly anti-LGBT+ laws. 

“I have not yet seen the reasoning of the court’s decision, but I was fined 50,000 rubles for LGBT+ propaganda,” Zhuravleva said.

“Apparently, the terms of the appeal have already passed. And to be honest, in principle, I do not understand what I personally have to do with this issue and what kind of propaganda we are talking about.”

Film festival organisers in Russia faced ‘absurd questions’ from prosecutors after they allegedly violated the ‘gay propaganda law’.

Outlaw sparked controversy in Russia even before it was released. The drama tells two love stories: a triangle between a gay teen, a violent jock and a popular girl; and an affair between a general and a transgender dancer in the Soviet ’80s.

Zhuravleva said prosecutors in Russia had previously filed a lawsuit against a regional culture department, which got the Culture Ministry to issue a rental licence for the film so it could be screened at the festival.

Furthermore, she said she was not even responsible for selecting the films that were shown at the festival – but was fined regardless.

Elsewhere, Boris Nelepo, chairman of the selection committee for the Spirit of Fire festival, said he and his team have been answering “absurd questions” from state prosecutors about their decision to show the film for six months.

“The absurd questions are repeated in a circle,” he said.

Nelepo said they were asked why the film was shown, why the programme for the festival was not wrapped in plastic in an effort to stop minors finding out about the film, and why young presenters at the festival heard the title of the film.

He said that, in order for Russia’s gay propaganda law to have been violated, there must have been under-18s present at the screening.

“We have been proving since March that there were no minors at the show,” he said. “This is confirmed by the police officers who were called to the show and who took passports from those entering the hall for viewing.”

Nelepo said he personally checked passports of people attending the screening to ensure that they were aged over 18.

We have been proving since March that there were no minors at the show.

“I cannot understand why they found fault with Zhuravleva,” he said. “She is not responsible for the selection and screening of films at the festival.”

Nelepo said the fine will make his job more difficult and he will be more careful in future about the films he selects.

“This is really some kind of monstrous story for me personally. She gets a fine because of my choice,” he said.

Vladimir Putin and his government banned so-called “gay propaganda” in 2013, prohibiting the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors”. Under his rule, sharing information about LGBT+ people’s lives can earn a person a prison sentence.

Numerous LGBT+ people – including minors – have also been prosecuted under the country’s harsh “gay propaganda” law, making the country a harsh and dangerous place for queer people.

More: Larisa Zhuravleva, outlaw, Russia, Spirit of Fire film festival

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