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Russias First Annual LGBT Film Festival Side by Side Sets its Sites Further and goes Nationwide in 2010.

In 2010 Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival will move beyond the confines of the Russian North West and into other regions across the Federation. Staggered throughout the year are four three-day film festivals in various locales stretching as far as Siberia. The regional program will be a rich mixture of documentary, features and shorts providing audiences with the opportunity to view films from the October 2009 Side by Side LGBT Film Festival which took place in Saint Petersburg. To run alongside film screenings is a strong discussion programme. Issues concerning coming out, discrimination, rights of LGBT people, same sex families and transgender will be tackled. A panel of invited experts, yet to be announced, are to participate. Levels of homophobia in Russian society remain incredibly high, stated festival founder Manny de Guerre, and to take Side by Side to other towns and cities where intolerance and hatred towards LGBT people are openly and violently expressed is an imperative. 

In Saint Petersburg Side by Side itself has faced an uphill struggle against city authorities. In 2008, the first Side by Side film festival was disrupted in a major way due to closure of venues by city authorities on the eve of the event. Organizers were forced to conduct festival proceedings at a secret undisclosed location. In Summer 2009 when Side by Sides film and discussion program was included in a citywide event - Festival of Festivals - held in Saint Petersburgs two leading and centrally located cinema halls Rodina and and Dom Kino organizers came under pressure to withdraw screenings from the schedules. Whereas screenings from Rodina (a State owned cinema hall) were removed, screenings did go ahead at Dom Kino, only on the condition however that Side by Sides visual presence was reduced.

In spite of the atmosphere of coercion and threat Side by Side has continued to persevere and in 2009 the second attempt to hold the film festival was made. The festival met with success. Running from 23rd to 31st October, 22 films were screened along with 10 panel discussions in 8 different venues across the city. The jury, comprising of leading experts in their field, included Professor Dr Igor Kon (sociologist and sexologist), Art Director of OPEN CINEMA film festival Tamara Larina, Executive Director of the human rights organization Moscow-Helsinki Group Nina Tagankina, Director of AHOI Culture Mahide Lein (Berlin) and  Director of INOEKINO (an independent alternative film distribution outlet) Sergey Baidak. Best Social Film, Best Enlightening Film, Best Film Representing Human Value and Audience Award were the competition categories.

The festival not only garnered the support of  international cultural organizations (the Goethe Institute and Danish Institute) and foreign consulates (British, American and Swedish) but local businesses including Bukvoed (a large book chain store) and Ladybird (a womens taxi company). In the region of two thousand people attended this years festival.

It was an outstanding achievement and an unprecedented event in Russian history, noted festival Director Gulya Sultanova: A fifth of the festival attendees were non-LGBT people. A clear indication that Side by Side is able to stimulate dialogue and raise important LGBT issues with society at large. Coverage of the event in print and TV media was limited due to widespread censorship.

In the coming year we aim to go further forward building on the many successes of 2009, commented Manny de Guerre: Side by Side remains committed to human rights advocacy, the propagation of a tolerant society where sexual minority groups and individual freedom and choice are both respected and protected.

If you are interested in keeping updated on events, leaving your opinion, making a donation and helping change the lives of LGBT people in Russia visit the official site at http://bok-o-bok.ru/default.asp?lan=1  

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