June is Pride Month. It should be a month of celebration and recognition. David France’s Welcome to Chechnya is a reminder this is not the case everywhere. The documentary is about the anti-gay purges in the Chechen Republic. The film follows a group of men and women who risk their lives to leave an oppressive country that will not even acknowledge their existence.
Welcome to Chechnya makes interesting use of modern technology. There is a disclaimer shortly after the documentary starts: some faces have been digitally disguised. The audience immediately knows what sort of world they are entering. The use of this type of special effects work in today’s movies is nothing short of amazing. From making someone look decades younger to bringing screen favorites back, there does not seem to be anything that cannot be done.
Filmmaker David France does not just use the effects to protect his subjects. It also projects a sense of fear. The people being interviewed have done nothing wrong, yet their lives are in danger. In an early scene, one person is so terrified before an interview, he asks a series of questions before agreeing to speak. This atmosphere of terror hangs over Welcome to Chechnya.
There are also moments of anti-gay violence caught on camera. These scenes are powerful and distressing. The videos paint a picture of a country filled with hate and misplaced shame. Welcome to Chechnya is incredibly sad. The past few months have shown how terrible people can treat each other. Still, it is shocking to see a government sanctioned purge of a group of people in the 21st century.
This is also a documentary about heroes. There are a number of interviews with members of the Russian LGBT Network. The group is a team of activists who risk their lives to sneak people out of the country. This includes putting refugees in safe houses and obtaining false documents. All the while, they selflessly talk about the others.
Along with being very moving there are moments of extreme drama. In particular, is the attempted extraction of a woman called “Anya”. Her story opens Welcome to Chechnya. It is a no win situation that demonstrates to the audience how horrible Chechnya is. Her attempt to flee the country is tension filled. France’s camera follows her and those helping her as they try to smuggle her out of the country in a number of tense moments.
Welcome to Chechnya is a distressing documentary. Director David France uses interviews and undercover filmmaking to cover the anti-gay purge in the Russian country. It is a frightening film that will make audiences question their faith in humanity. It is also a story of heroism and hope. These moments show the power of camaraderie and love.
Welcome to Chechnya premieres June 30 on HBO