Welcome to Chechnya (2020)

“Welcome to Chechnya” is actually not the most accurate title – the film is primarily devoted to the operation to rescue homosexuals from Chechnya (in total, human rights defenders have taken out more than 150 people), and a significant part of it takes place outside the republic. In Chechnya, mostly wide avenues of Grozny and facades with portraits of Kadyrov and Putin were filmed. To take the footage, Fran pretended to be a football fan and secretly filmed on his phone. Basically, the action takes place in Moscow, in the so-called shelter, where the victims were taken from Chechnya before making documents for them and sending them outside the country. The organizers of the rescue operations, LGBT activists Olga Baranova and David Isteyev, talk about the rescue operations, and above all, we see them in the frame. We follow their conversations: how they plan rescue operations (for example, they cover their exit from the republic with a trip to a wedding salon in another region), how the victims are instructed, and how they remember cases when their plans failed.

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Baranova and Isteev are one of the few whose real faces are shown in the film. Although most of the characters were in Moscow at the time of filming, they were still awaiting an attack (this fear makes one of those who took refuge in the shelter to open his veins). The atmosphere of danger and persecution, from which there is nowhere to hide, is the scariest part of the film. At the same time, the threat hangs over homosexuals (and those who were suspected of having homosexual relationships), regardless of ethnicity and status: in 2017, a well-known singer in the republic, Zelimkhan Bakaev, disappeared in the capital of Chechnya – presumably because of his orientation. Since then, no one has seen him, and the investigation, as reported by the authorities, has yielded no results.

For the safety of the characters in the film, their voices and faces are changed – because of this we see them slightly blurred (the creators of the picture said that they used technology like Deepfake). This is connected with one of the most powerful scenes in “Welcome to Chechnya” when one of the tortured decides to reveal his identity and make the story public, the mask melts, and we see his real face for the first time, learn his real name – Maxim Lapunov.

CRITIC REVIEWS

The film “Welcome to Chechnya” tells about what happened in the republic of the same name in 2017.

Therapeutic rape, torture with electric shock, tortured bodies, rats that ate people alive – all this is represented in the stories of the main characters of this picture, in their fears, pains, and anxieties. Those who survived, I will not dissemble, were lucky. Those who did not survive were less fortunate.

The film itself evokes a genuine sense of fear, the feeling that you are watching something incredibly alien; something that cannot exist in principle – only in horror films and thrillers abroad, age 18+. But this is all the reality in which we live: scary, frightening, I would even say alien. This documentary is impossible to watch without tears in your eyes; it is impossible to look without pain in the heart if you are Human for even a second. I cried until I had nothing else to cry with. I wanted to scream with the pain that all these people had endured.

Everything that was shown in this film is not the problem of gays, lesbians, queer people. These are our problems. Problems for all of us.

First, they came for the socialists, and I was silent – because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I was silent – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

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