Welcome to Chechnya: David France’s Docu of Anti-Gay Violemce (Sundance Fest, LGBTQ)

Sundance Film Fest 2020–Welcome to Chechnya, the HBO documentary from David France is a searing probe into the government-directed persecution and killing of LGBT citizens from the Russian republic.

Welcome to Chechnya
Welcome to Chechnya.jpeg

Official poster

It’s a chronicle of the vicious anti-gay violence (detention, torture)  as well as those brave and selfless rescue activists.

The film follows the work of activists rescuing survivors of torture in Chechnya.

In order to avoid exposure of their work, it was shot in secret, using hidden cameras, cell phones, GoPros, and handycams.

How to protect the identities of interviewees?

Director France puts real human face on the story, without using conventional methods, such as blurring their faces, filming them in the dark, and hiring actors to reenact some events.  He opted for advanced facial replacement techniques, using artificial intelligence and novel visual effects technology, so the viewers see real faces displaying genuine emotions.  The approach is a “game changer in identity protection,” a new tool for documentary filmmakers.

To protect the interviewees, they could not move the footage across the internet nor work on it in open studio setting. Instead, they edited the film in a windowless room in order to keep with security protocols.

One of the refugees, Maxim Lapunov, is publicly identified, as he sought, and failed, to get legal redress from Russian authorities.

The mysterious disappearance of gay Chechen singer Zelim Bakaev after a visit to Grozny for his sister’s wedding in August 2017 is briefly mentioned in the film.


If you want to know more about gay-themed films and gay directors, please read my book:

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).


It is directed by Oscar nominee David Frane, who has already made some significant docus, such as How to Survive a Plague, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.

Welcome to Chechnya adds another significant panel to his growing body of work.  This feature, which premiered to great acclaim at the 2020 Sundance Film Fest, is an emotionally powerful documentary about a group of activists risking their lives to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ persecution in the repressive and closed Russian republic of Chechnya.

With unfettered access and a commitment to protecting anonymity, this docu exposes Chehnya’s underreported atrocities while highlighting a group of people who are confronting brutality head-on.

The film follows these LGBTQ activists as they work undercover to rescue victims and provide them with safe houses and visa assistance to escape persecution.

Welcome to Chechnya is a Public Square Films production.

Produced by Alice Henty, Joy A. Tomchin, Askold Kurov and David France.

Directed by David France
Written by David France, Tyler H. Walk

Music by Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine

Cinematography: Askold Kurov, Derek Wiesehahn

Edited by Tyler H. Walk

Production companies:

Public Square Films
HBO Documentary Films
Ninety Thousand Words
Maylo Films
BBC Storyville

Distributed by HBO Films

Release date: January 26, 2020 (Sundance); June 30, 2020 (US)

Running time: 107 minutes