Russia’s pioneering Side by Side festival of LGBT cinema, taking place in St Petersburg, has been interrupted for a second time by an anonymous bomb threat. On Saturday evening organisers were forced to evacuate festival venue Loft Project Etagi after police were told that a bomb had been placed in the building. This is the second such incident: the opening of the festival on 21 November was delayed after an anonymous caller told police that there was a bomb in the shopping centre in next to the Warsaw Express cinema.
On Saturday, viewers were forced to wait for about two hours while police checked the building. Nevertheless, many of them — and the prize jury — stayed on to watch the conclusion of the short film screening programme. Following Saturday’s incident, the Zone of Action co-working space at Loft Etagi declined to host further screenings. Festival organisers have remained upbeat, despite the antagonistic campaign. In a message on their website, they said: “What happened at the opening of the festival and on Saturday 23 November shows very well that homophobia and hatred are dangerous for all society. On those it wasn’t just viewers of the films at the Side by Side festival that suffered, but also everyone else at Warsaw Express and Loft Project Etagi.
Side by Side was launched in 2008 in St Petersburg, a city which has been at the forefront of anti-gay legislation. Initially organisers of the first festival were forced to hold screenings in secret venues and in foreign embassies after a number of participating cinemas were closed down by fire inspectors just days before the opening. The festival now operates in different cities across Russia. Side by Side has received praise and support from many outside of Russia, including Pedro Almodovar, Stephen Fry, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Sir Ian McKellen and Gus Van Sant.
This year’s programme includes feature films, such as Palme D’Or-winner Blue is the Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche, as well as documentary and short films. The festival runs until 30 November.