Video interview with David France (director of “Bienvenue en Tchétchénie”)
“There is no way to chronicle and document genocide without knowing you are going to suffer,” says David France on the experience of the creation of “Welcome to Chechnya”. The third of what the Oscar-nominated director calls a queer activism trilogy, it documents the efforts of a group of activists as they help Chechen’s queer citizens escape a state-sanctioned purge of members of the LGBTQ community. The film premiered in 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival before being released on HBO. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
France became aware of the situation in Chechnya after reading a report by an independent Russian newspaper in 2017. Despite clear evidence of what it calls “a liquidation campaign like the one we have not seen since Hitler France maintains that there is a more important reason for the lack of a global response to the crisis. “I think it failed to capture attention, even within the queer community, because we had no picture of what was going on there,” he says. “It was irrelevant because people fleeing this persecution are being stalked all over the world. This is how serious this campaign is.
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France integrated with activists for months to capture footage in secret, an experience the director describes as both terrible and uplifting. “While I was really prepared for this ugly trip, I was also really surprised and in awe of the other things I found there,” he explains. “Saving people they don’t even know is that expression of humanity’s love. “
France has taken great care to disguise the identity of individuals attempting to flee Chechnya, using digital technology to alter the faces of participants. The director also ensured that attendees had the opportunity to sign the edited footage so that they felt confident that their identities would be kept a secret. France says that subjects often did not even recognize themselves in the pictures. “So many of them couldn’t identify this image which was basically them with someone else’s skin on their face,” he says.
Like her two previous films, “The Death and Life of Martha P. Johnson” and “How to Survive a Plague”, Oscar nominees, France considers “Welcome to Chechnya” to be more than just a queer history document. “It’s everyone’s story,” he says. “That’s why I’ve been so captivated by these stories of real heroism because I think they tell us so much about who we are as people. I think this is the gift that the queer movement left for the rest of humanity.
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