Russian Legislator Disrupts Opening Ceremony of LGBTQ Film Festival

Una mujer fantastica - A Fantastic Woman  - Still 1 - H 2017
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

Vitaly Milonov, known for his homophobic stance, made false claims about hostage-taking at the venue.

Vitaly Milonov, a Russian legislator known for his homophobic attitudes, disrupted the opening ceremony of the LGBTQ film festival Bok o bok (Side by Side) on Wednesday night in St. Petersburg.

Earlier that day, he made phone calls to the management of the venue, Moskva film theater, demanding that the opening ceremony be canceled as it allegedly contradicted the Russian law prohibiting "gay propaganda among minors," the fest said on its website, adding that no law was broken as only people over 18 years could be admitted.

Then, according to the organizers, Milonov showed up at the entrance to the venue and tried to block it, also verbally abusing security guards and viewers. Later, he called the police, claiming there was a hostage-taking inside. The police arrived and found no wrongdoing, but the investigation took such a long time that the organizers eventually had to cancel the opening ceremony and the screening of the opening-night film, the Oscar winner Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman).

"The organizers of the festival Side by Side will file a complaint against a deliberately false claim and obstructing the organization of the event and will also claim damages," read a statement from the fest. "There are also plans to send an enquiry to the ethics committee of the State Duma [lower chamber of Russian parliament] to initiate a discussion of whether [Milonov's] behavior was in line with the status of a Russian legislator."

The organizers stressed that despite the disruption of the opening ceremony, the event will go ahead.

This edition of the festival is scheduled to run through Nov. 1. Since the law against "gay propaganda among minors" was adopted in Russia in 2013, the fest has several times faced disruptions of screenings. Two years ago, Milonov also was involved in disrupting the event.