David France‘s (How to Survive a Plague) Welcome to Chechnya debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to critical raves, with the powerful LGBTQ documentary collecting the award for best editing and later, at Berlinale, winning the Panorama Audience Award for Best Documentary. The documentary will soon arrive on HBO, with the network announcing the June premiere date in the official Welcome to Chechnya trailer.
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Welcome to Chechnya was one of several movies at True/False to come to the festival straight from Sundance. The documentary by David France (How to Survive a Plague) is this year’s True Life Fund film, which raises proceeds to help the selected film’s subject. The organizers picked an important film to highlight, and a cause so immediate and directly beneficial that it was difficult not to empty the entire contents of my wallet into the donation bucket on the way out of the theater.
Welcome to Chechnya follows the work of the Russian LGBTQ Network, an activist group working to combat genocide in Chechnya. Since 2016, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has led a pogrom against the republic’s LGBTQ+ population, complete with sanctioned detainment, torture and execution. The network France follows has created a kind of underground railroad, fielding pleas for help from endangered Chechens, putting them up in safe houses, and finding ways to smuggle them out of the country. The network’s leader, David Isteev, also hopes to convince the Russian government to open an investigation. To do that, he needs a torture survivor to go public. Doing so would mean a lifetime of hiding for whoever is brave enough to speak up.
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