Moscow Premiere, Russia’s long running avant-garde charitable film festival and a champion of Russian LGBT and anti-fascist cinema, has been canceled.   Moscow Premiere, which had been supported by the Moscow city council for the past 12 years was due to launch its 13th edition on Sept. 2, running a program of free screenings with tickets available via vouchers published in popular daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.  Citing economic hardship, Moscow’s culture committee pulled funding as the festival was about to begin its 13th year. It will be replaced by a “positive, youth-orientated” festival called the Youth Festival of Life Affirming Film, which enlightens Russia’s youth by prohibiting people under 18 years of age from watching movies that depict homosexuality in any way.  For many liberal-minded people, Moscow Premiere was a trailblazer; not only was it free to anyone who wanted to go, it consistently pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to be screened in Russia by selecting films that are often rejected from Russia’s largest film festival, Kinotavr, and banned from wider release.  “The main problem,” said Sultanova, a slight woman with close-cropped hair and a ballerina’s posture who is the festival’s director, “is that the state can do anything it wants.” “We’ve got used to it,” said de Guerre, who founded the festival. “Unfortunately.” 
On face value, nothing seems particularly sinister about a change to a new youth focused festival – but this change shines a light on Russia’s LGBT scene. We have to understand that Putin sees the LGBT Agenda as being part of a foreign-funded ideological subversion operation. The Russians authorities are now creating a legal infrastructure that controls or closes nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding or engage in LGBT activity.  In 2012, Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, passed a foreign-agents law: Nonprofit organizations that receive money from abroad must register as foreign agents.  Hundreds of NGOs were inspected for signs of political activity. Last year, federal legislation against LGBT “propaganda” was also enacted.  Concrete measures are currently being taken to protect Russian culture from western infections and from the “destabilization attempts” that are coming from organization such as George Soros’ Open Society’s Foudation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Melon-Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, etc.
The new festival is being run by Yevgeny Gerasimov, a high-ranking member of Putin’s Kremlin, and it’s fairly likely, if not certain, that the vital, thought-provoking work showcased by Moscow Premiere will not be on the agenda.  In fact, in the eyes of the LGBT community, the replacement film festival sounds about as dystopian as it can possibly get. The lineup for the Youth Festival hasn’t been announced yet, but expect a marathon of unintentionally homoerotic films with plots featuring teenagers’ love and admiration for President Putin.  Earlier this year, Russia also cut the line-up of the Moscow International Film Festival, but most of the films cleaved were those with any themes deemed undesirable. 
Moscow Premiere head, film critic Vyacheslav Shmyrov, told Russian newspaper Noviye Izvestia, “We cannot affiliate to the new festival — not least in terms of our self-esteem.” He said Moscow Premiere, which did not charge admission, existed mainly as a “social mission” for those who can’t afford to go to the movies.  Self-esteem is crucial here. The decision was abrupt – one day it was going ahead, the next day funding was pulled. It’s a humiliating state of affairs for filmmakers and members of Russia’s LGBT community.  Shmyrov said he hoped to salvage parts of the program but, with such short notice, he didn’t think it would be possible. He planned to have conversations with city council officials to see what could be done.  “Our festival was running 12 years and had a very different program, showing films such as Russia-88 and Winter’s Path,” he said, referring to two controversial movies, the first focusing on Russian neo-Nazis and the second a gay-themed debut feature that struggled to get distribution in Russia.  By cancelling Moscow Premiere, Russia have actively attacked the value of radical cinema. LGBT cinema is at a premium in Russia – with something like one film a year exploring these themes given general release. Despite the problems of distribution, radical Russian cinema has a small, but powerful scene. This is why Moscow Premiere was so important – it made a point of being one of the very few festivals to debut anti-establishment film – such as 2009’s Russia-88, a mockumentary about Russian neo-Nazis and 2014’s Corrections Classs. Both films challenge the status-quo; Corrections Class, the first film of 26-year-old director Ivan I. Tverdovsky, focuses on the struggles of special needs teenagers to prove themselves to be “normal”. Before the release of Pride, there was the stunning Blue is the Warmest Colour. Both films were rated 18 plus. Both were, therefore, box office flops. It squeezes creativity and strangles expression. When Moscow Premiere couldn’t debut a film with a limited release, it ran Second Premiere, which gave these undernourished films space to be seen.  Winter Journey struggled to get commercial screenings throughout the country due to the ban on gay propaganda (that basically means anything and everything) – without the assistance of the festival, it’s likely it would never have reached Britain. Erik and Lyokha kiss once in the entire film – but it was a landmark moment in Russian film, and the new ruling makes it far less likely we’ll be seeing another one any time soon.  Non-actors are thrown in with trained performers, people with distinct and complicated issues like Down Syndrome and bipolar disorder are thrown together in a single class and treated, brutally, like identical problems. Scenes are filled with the lingering threat of violence. Any instance where the kids may be about to find happiness is swiftly destroyed. But a sense of hope runs throughout the movie, a glimpse at a better future, if only more people would – or could – listen. It won multiple awards and gained international popularity – but without its original screening, none of that may have been possible. 
This cancellation falls right in line with the toxic climate for LGBT rights in Russia, coming just two years after the passage of a federal anti-LGBT law that banned “the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.” Those found in violation of the law can be fined or, in some cases, imprisoned.  Last year, the International Queer Culture Festival, known as QueerFest, took place in St. Petersburg, despite ominous threats from public officials and reports of physical harassment of attendees. In 2013, St. Petersburg’s Side by Side Film Festival faced bomb threats on its opening night, but ultimately carried on, screening Russian and U.S. films, including the Oscar-winning Milk, about LGBT trailblazer Harvey Milk. Side By Side Film Festival had been cancelled in 2008, with organizers given notice of the cancellation just hours before the festival was scheduled to open.  In February, it was reported that Russia would make festivals exempt from controversial new regulations requiring all films to secure an exhibition licence before they might be screened in public. New rules aimed at cracking down on features that “threaten national unity” or “defile culture” were introduced last year.  Russia last week announced plans to entirely block Wikipedia, in its latest crackdown on the internet. The Russian government recently bolstered its watchdog’s powers to censor the internet – and over the past year a number of blocks have been placed on ‘dissenting’ groups. Russia’s main support group for teenagers who identify as LGBT, Children-404, was quietly blocked by authorities on Russian social media site VKontakte in April.