Overview: Homosexuality was legalized in Russia 21 years ago, but gay people in the country have yet to win mainstream acceptance. In fact, attitudes in Russia appear to be moving backwards. With jobs and relationships at risk if their sexual orientation is exposed, most gay Russians remain closeted.
This documentary features disturbing insider footage of homophobic Russians who, in the name of morality or religion, beat and torment gay people, posting graphic videos of their encounters online with few or no legal repercussions. These vigilantes see homosexuality as related to pedophilia, stating publicly that their justification for violence is protecting Russia’s children.Posing as interested suitors, anti-gay activists “bait” unsuspecting men and women to rendezvous at apartments or public places, then harass, beat and humiliate victims, often urinating on them. Recordings of these encounters, along with forced admissions of homosexuality, are posted on the internet to “out” the victim and make his or her life “a living hell.”
HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA, directed by Ben Steele debuted Monday, 10.06 at 9:00pm. The piece is narrated by actor Matt Bomer, who was recently seen in HBO Films’ THE NORMAL HEART.
Expectations: From time to time you get a documentary that is just simple, black & white, cut & dry in its intent. Here is an example. Before I even need to see or read any more about it I know its premise and I know how I am going to feel about it. I’m already feeling disheartened. It is about violence placed on people who don’t deserve it. I don’t care how anyone feels about homosexuality. I don’t care whether you are for or against same-sex marriage or uncomfortable about Gay Pride. My opinion of the lifestyle doesn’t even matter because violence against an innocent victim is wrong. Period, plain and simple.
Gut Reaction: Once again it is foolish of me to underestimate the power of an HBO documentary. There are a few more layers to this story than what is on the surface. Don’t misunderstand; the crux of the issue is the violation of human rights. But, quickly let me single out a few other points that I gleaned from the 48 minute film.
The more I hear about life and law under Vladimir Putin’s rule the more disgusted I become. This documentary, though not elaborating on Putin and his policies, does make it clear of the warped and corrupt government he heads. It easily reaffirms that his Human Rights violations are atrocious. The film also broaches the topic of vigilante justice and it speaks volumes about it. The government is simply allowing the ‘outing’ and ‘policing’ of homosexuals to vigilante groups that terrorize as they will because it is doing a service to the country! Even the clergy seem to accept that it is okay to treat them this way. If the church and state both truly believe homosexuality is a mental illness then at least do the right thing by “treating them” instead of letting them be hunted game on the street! And where will it end? Heterosexual human rights sympathizers are being attacked now also. Any honest policing efforts have got to be one step up from what is being allowed now.
Vigilante justice is not the way to treat any problem. Even if you were a country opposed to the presence of green-haired sludge drinkers on your streets vigilante justice is not the answer. We have had issue and debate about that type of justice since the KKK was founded. As is pointed out in this documentary gays are the new target it seems and in Russia they are taking it very seriously and dangerously.
Bonus: He is a quick Q & A with the film’s director Ben Steele (pictured) which I found on HBO.com.
HBO: How did you get involved with this project?
Ben Steele: I got a call saying that there was an appetite to do a program about gay rights in Russia and the situation unfolding there. This was in the summer of 2013. I realized that it was going to be a big and important issue. The more I looked into it, I realized that what was going on in Russia was extremely disturbing. The question became: How do we do this subject justice? We know it’s not fun to be gay in Russia, so we wanted to make a program that would approach this issue in a way that would really bring home just how dark the situation is. That’s why we decided to approach it, almost, if you like, through the eyes of the vigilante groups that target gay people.
HBO: That was a fascinating and unexpected way into the subject. How did you get that access?
BS: We went to Russia and we met people and we said, ‘We want to understand how people in Russia feel about this subject, and it’s not my job to say what you’re doing is right or wrong. That’s for the viewers, the audience to come to their own conclusion. What I’d like to do is just understand the situation.’ Of course there were elements of mistrust because know that I’m English – I’m coming from a different culture — but actually I treat everyone that I film with respect, and I don’t go into a situation having pre-judged people.
HBO: Did you get the sense that the group you were filming, Occupy Pedophilia, was actually rather violent?
BS: Everybody has a different response to those scenes [when Occupy Pedophilia entrapped a gay Russian]. The background is that Occupy Pedophilia does violently attack people. It’s a scene that can leave some people feeling really uncomfortable. In a sense, where are the lines of filmmaking? Where is the line you need to be managing while you’re filming in difficult situations? I think we very firmly stay on one side of the line because we in no way encouraged or aided or supported what was happening — we were documenting it. But at the same time, one of the things that I felt was quite important while I was in the room is that I was offering the victim some security that with me being there, it was less likely that the Occupy Pedophilia people would turn extremely violent. I think for many people the scene is more impactful almost because there’s no violence. There’s just an awful, tormenting humiliation going on.
HBO: Will that group, Occupy Pedophilia, not get in trouble for what they did to that guy in your documentary?
BS: The irony is, unfortunately, that in Russia, no they won’t. The group filmed the same scene that I did, and that video went online, and hundreds of videos, too, many of which are more violent, went online, and the police almost never investigate. The police turn a blind eye. That seems crazy for a Western audience, but that’s the situation there. I should add, for people who are anxious about the harrowing scene, but I did make contact with the victim. We did speak and he was adamant that he didn’t want me to take that material to the police.
HBO: Would it be worse for the victim’s situation if you went to the police?
BS: We offered him support and assistance, but he didn’t want that. Occupy Pedophilia was very unhappy with me contacting him. After I came back from reaching out to him, the folks with Occupy Pedophilia were quite hostile and wanted to know what I was doing. I had to explain that I treat everyone that I work with the same. There was definitely a moment where, if things were going to turn violent, that might have been when violence had been directed my way.
HBO: What is it about the cultural climate in Russia that makes homophobia rampant?
BS: There’s a culture of homophobia where Russian society mirrors British or American society from four decades ago, where homosexuality was not tolerated. Things have gotten worse and taken this disturbing turn because of the new law that was introduced in the summer of 2013. That has helped to inflame emotions and many people see that Vladimir Putin is using homosexuals as a scapegoat for anger that might otherwise be aimed at his regime. Is there a ray of hope? It’s good that the world is talking about this. It’s good that people are not turning a blind eye. And it’s great that things have moved so quickly elsewhere. I suppose that the hope is don’t give up hope.
HBO: Is there anything viewers can do to help the situation in Russia, such as a place to donate?
BS: A lot of people responded in that way. People want to do something after watching this film, they’re outraged. One of the reasons it provokes that reaction is that the film isn’t necessarily saying, ‘This is bad.’ So, it forces the viewer to come to their own conclusions, and as a result those conclusions are much more powerfully felt. A screening that we’re having is being cohosted by an organization called Uprising of Love so that may be a place to donate, as well as Human Rights Watch
HBO: Anything you’d like to add about Hunted?
BS: I am really interested in how people can believe that they’re doing the right thing when it really seems that they’re not doing the right thing. I think that is something which you can draw different parallels with on so many different issues. It’s very clear here. One of the most frightening things about this film is that the bad guys, at times, don’t behave like bad guys.
In Conclusion: One thing for certain this is a disheartening piece. Watch HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA, mull it over and let us know what you think. HBO air dates remaining are 10.09 at 2:50am and 10.14 at 12:20am. On HBO2 catch it on 10.12 at 1:15pm & 2:45am, 10.16 at 8:00pm & 1:30am and 10.22 at 1:00pm & 11:00pm. It is also on HBOGo.
Next Week: Airing will be an encore presentation of a film not previously reviewed on HBOWatch and even somehow missed by this writer. THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH AUNT DIANE premieres Monday, 10.13 at 6:15pm.