A controversial Russian film featuring a gay love story will have its international premiere at the London Russian Film Festival next week. Winter Journey by directors Sergei Taramaev and Liubov Lvova was released this summer to much praise from Russian film critics who described the decision as brave given that it came shortly after the passage of a “gay propaganda” law.
Although film pundits expected the Ministry of Culture to refuse the film a distribution licence it was eventually granted an 18 certificate. Despite winning two prizes at the Window to Europe Film Festival in Vyborg in August, Lvova said she was disappointed the film had not been accepted into other, more prominent festivals. She said: “At many festivals — Russian ones — this scared the organisers a lot. They were afraid of this law, that it would stop them getting financing for their festivals.”
Winter Journey tells the story of a gay classical singer who falls in love with a petty criminal. Music student Erik's performance of Franz Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey in English) is transformed once he meets Lyokha, a homophobic youth from a provincial town.
The seventh edition of the London Russian Film Festival include a competition award for the first time. The London Lion Award will be judged by a panel made up of Jos Stelling, a Dutch filmmaker; Robbie Collin, chief film critic for The Daily Telegraph; Chris Curling, producer of Tolstoy biopic The Last Station; Catherine Bray, a writer and broadcaster; and Iain McLeod, a film booker for Empire Cinemas.
Other highlights in the competition programme include Intimate Parts, a comedy that delves into the sex lives of middle-class Muscovites; director Kirill Serebrennikov's Betrayal, which competed at Venice in 2012; and Shame, a dark drama that follows the wives of submariners in the far north of Russia. Vitaly Mansky’s latest documentary, Pipeline, about a journey along the length of a gas pipeline that runs from Western Siberia to Western Europe will also compete in the competition. A full retrospective of Mansky’s documentaries will run in the documentary programme.
The London Russian Film Festival runs at the Empire Leicester Square and the May Fair Hotel from 7 to 17 November with additional screenings in Edinburgh and Cambridge. It is organised by Academia Rossica, a charity set up in 2000 to promote cultural links between Russia and the English-speaking world, with support from the Russian Ministry of Culture.