David France’s powerful and urgent documentary, Welcome To Chechnya, is an extremely tough but absolutely necessary watch. The film exposes the treatment of LGBTQI+ people in Chechnya who, since 2017, have been subject to an unbelievably violent campaign of persecution and extermination.
Encouraged by the Russian republic’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, LGBTQI+ Chechens have been detained, tortured and executed. Treated as a disgrace and seen as subhuman, their only hope is to escape.
For that, they need the help of activists such as The Russian LGBT Network. This group helps them to flee the danger in Chechnya, offers them temporary shelter and tries to organise a place of long-term refuge.
France follows The Russian LGBT Network as it saves lives and raises awareness of the atrocities taking place. David Isteev and Olga Baranova serve as our guides and offer us disturbing insights into life as a LGBTQI+ Chechen.
With incredible access, Welcome To Chechnya takes us into The Russian LGBT Network’s shelters and introduces us to several people hoping to flee Russia. Their horrific and heartbreaking experiences are made even more powerful by the film’s use of face-obscuring technology.
In order to protect their anonymity, their identities are obscured via the use of an overlay of another person’s face. This game changing technique is remarkably effective. The technology ensures that we stay emotionally connected to their stories.
As a result, we are fully invested in their escape attempts and Welcome To Chechnya has many tension-fuelled sequences. The stakes are incredibly high - both for those hoping to flee and the activists trying to help.
France combines these powerful accounts with footage of people being brutally attacked and abused. These scenes are incredibly shocking and hard to watch. However, they are also justified and appropriate.
We need to see to understand… and then, surely, the world needs to act.