The Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, which takes place annually in St Petersburg, Russia, has had its website taken down by authorities in a move that the organizers say was provoked by an orchestrated campaign of complaints from ultra-right-wing groups.
The event is taking place entirely online this year due to the pandemic. Its online cinema theater remains up because it is hosted by a third party, but the fest’s main website and subdomains, including the program, are inaccessible at present.
Established in 2008 by Manny de Guerre, Side by Side is a key LGBT event in Russia. It has been targeted by hate groups before, including during last year’s physical edition when the event was disrupted by a homophobic campaign.
This year’s event opened with a screening of Firebird, Peeter Rebane’s English-language feature that debuted at the BFI Flare Festival in the UK earlier this year. That virtual screening was also the victim of a homophobic attack, with anti-LGBT comments flooding the live Q&A.
“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. We are currently consulting with our legal team and are taking further action,” festival founder Manny de Guerre said.
“We are forging ahead with our program, encouraging audiences to watch the films online and our daily interactive discussions being aired through our social networks. VK, Instagram, FB are currently serving as our channels for communication,” he continued. “Year after year – despite growing audience numbers, greater interest in LGBT issues – Side by Side comes under attack from homophobes, who often resort to criminal activity. We remain persistent, however, and will continue our right and fight to protect the freedoms of LGBT persons.”
Firebird director Peeter Rebane said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.
“This is one of the very few LGBTIQ+ festivals in Russia which fills an important gap in the Russian society by giving a voice to the community,” he added. “Instead of investigating the film festival, Russian authorities should be investigating the organisers of such cyber attacks. I feel this information needs to be shared, so we can all support the festival and help bring more love and understanding to societies around the world.”
“Imagine living in the UK with a government which shuts down BFI Flare’s website after someone complains about screening of a love story between two men? This is the kind of persecution which same sex families face daily in Russia today,” Rebane continued.