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Firebird star Tom Prior responds after Russian LGBTQ film festival website blocked

Side By Side festival in St Petersburg opened with a screening of Soviet-era gay romantic drama Firebird.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Firebird (UK/Estonia, dir. Peeter Rebane)

Organisers of a Russian LGBTQ film festival have said they will keep fighting for LGBTQ freedoms after its website was taken down.

Side By Side takes place annually in St Petersburg but is taking place virtually this year as a result of the pandemic. The Russian website remains inaccessible at the time of writing, but an English version still seems to be operating.

The event, which has been run since 2008, has been targeted by anti-LGBTQ groups previously. Organisers claim the website has been blocked following pressure from right-wing groups.

“We consider the decision to add our site to this blacklist illegal”

The festival’s founder, Manny de Guerre, has said: “We consider the decision to add our site to this blacklist illegal – receiving no advance warning from Roskomnadzor [The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications], nor the chance to defend our case in the courts,” according to Deadline.

“We are currently consulting with our legal team and are taking further action,” de Guerre added before encouraging people to keep watching the festival’s array of films online and to take part in discussions.

Despite attacks over the years, de Guerre also said: “We remain persistent, however, and will continue our right and fight to protect the freedoms of LGBT persons.”

The festival was opened with a screening of the Soviet-era LGBTQ romantic drama Firebird, which was disturbed by anti-LGBTQ comments appearing in a Q&A.

Starring Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorodnii, the film is based on Sergey Fetisov’s memoir The Story of Roman and premiered at BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival earlier this year.

The film’s director, Peeter Rebane has said he is “deeply saddened” about Side By Side website being taken down and that, “This is the kind of persecution which same-sex families face daily in Russia today.”

Actor Tom Prior told Attitude today (Monday 22 November): “We have always had the intention to make this film about love, not about politics – that was Sergey Fetisov’s wish, and so we honoured that wish.

“It is our hope that through a movie like Firebird we can create greater understanding and we decided to make the film from the perspective of a universal love story.

“It’s upsetting to see that so much scrutiny and judgement has been placed on Firebird, and the festival, especially when we are carrying the message of ‘Love is Love’.“

Watch a trailer for Firebird below:

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