‘Milk’ Creators to Attend Russian LGBT Fest Despite Disruptions

Frank W. Ockenfels 3
Gus Van Sant

Director Gus Van Sant, producer Bruce Cohen and writer Dustin Lance Black say they will be in St. Petersburg despite bomb scares and a controversy tied to a "Blue Is the Warmest Color" screening.

MOSCOW – Milk director Gus Van Sant, producer Bruce Cohen and writer Dustin Lance Black say they are determined to attend Russia's St. Petersburg’s LGBT festival Bok o Bok (Side by Side) for the screening of the film and a Q&A session despite incidents and false bomb alarms that have marred the event since its start last week.

Among them was what organizers called a "provocation aimed at disrupting the festival" during a screening of Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is the Warmest Color.

“Our hope in screening the 2009 Academy Award winning film Milk -- about the late civil rights leader Harvey Milk -- is to encourage respectful conversations that might create deeper understanding,” Cohen was quoted as saying by queerty.com.

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“Cinema has that power,” he continued. “For this reason, we would like to bring our film to your country and participate in the meaningful dialogue we feel certain this screening will create between the people of our great nations.”

The festival is unfolding after Russia passed a controversial law "against propaganda of homosexuality among minors" earlier this year, which Hollywood representatives and others have criticized.

Last week, the festival’s opening ceremony was delayed by an hour and a half, and a weekend screening of a short film program was interrupted by two hours due to bomb threats made by phone. They proved to be false alarms. The organizers of the festival said the calls were “provocations” aimed against the event and its audience.

“What happened at the festival’s opening ceremony and on Nov. 23 shows very clearly that homophobia and hatred are dangerous for society at large,” the organizers said in a statement. “On those two nights, ‘telephone terrorism’ hit not only audiences of the Side by Side festival, but also other people who happened to be in the Warsaw Express and Loft buildings,” where the events took place.

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Another controversy hit the festival on Tuesday when Blue Is the Warmest Color was screened. Led by local parliament member Vladimir Milonov, the author of the city’s anti-gay legislation, a group of people tried to disrupt the screening, claiming that under-age people were in the audience. Later, two teenage girls showed up in front of reporters, claiming to have left the cinema 10 minutes into the screening and showing their passports in proof that they were under 18.

Again, the organizers dismissed the move as a planned attack against them. “We are surprised by the girls’ statement that they had been able to get into the theater,” the festival said in a statement. “Apparently, the incident is another provocation aimed at disrupting the festival. We are prepared to defend ourselves in court.”

The screening of Milk and a Q&A with Van Sant, Cohen and Black are scheduled for Saturday, the festival’s final day.