Friday, October 3, 2008
By Sergey Chernov
Two popular local nightclubs are facing closure after they agreed to hold a gay and lesbian film festival on their premises. The Place and Sochi, two venues popular with students, the art crowd and expats, were targets of unscheduled fire safety inspections on the eve of the festival’s opening and were in the process shut down for breaking the fire code.
Side by Side, the first LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) film festival in St. Petersburg, featuring an international schedule of 17 feature films and five short film programs as well as personal appearances by a number of international filmmakers, was due to open at The Place and Sochi, on Thursday.
“We are indignant, upset and distressed,” said Irina Sergeyeva, one of the three organizers of the festival that features films from the U.S., Europe and Moscow.
“We have had the festival opening scheduled for tonight at two venues, and it became known earlier today that by the order of the fire inspectors, who paid visits to the both clubs yesterday, the clubs are closed, so the film festival will not be held at these venues,” she said speaking by telephone on Thursday.
Guests at the four-day festival which was due to end Sunday included John Cameron Mitchell, whose 2006 film “Shortbus” garnered many awards at such festivals as the Athens International Film Festival, Gijon International Film Festival and the Zurich Film Festival.The festival, whose motto is “Look Broader, Be Kinder,” was originally scheduled to be held at Pik film center, but was moved into The Place and Sochi after Pik’s management terminated the contract with the festival’s organizers last month.
“It was virtually the same situation at Pik; after the contract was signed and tickets went on sale, in a week’s time the contract was terminated ‘for technical reasons,’ but there was information in Moi Rayon newspaper that it was done under the pressure from the city and district administrations,” Sergeyeva said.
According to Sergeyeva, LGBT film festivals have taken place in the city before, but they were closed events.
“This is the first open event,” she said. “It represents cultured, quality films, and it’s very sad [because it could be] an event that St. Petersburg could be proud of.”
Sergeyeva did not say that the festival was deliberately suppressed by the authorities, but she implied that pressure seems to come from the top.
“I can’t give the exact information, I only know the two instances,” she said. “First, the contract with Pik was terminated and representatives of Pik referred to the city and district administrations, and, secondly, the contract [with The Place and Sochi] was terminated today because of the fire inspectorate’s orders. These are the facts that I have.”
Sergeyeva said tickets will be refunded by the venues. She added that the organizers will be looking for alternative venues for the festival.
As this newspaper went to press, the future of the clubs was not clear as the legal procedures initiated by the fire inspectorate were under way.
The Place was reported to be sealed, and closed for at least ten days, on Thursday. The future of Sochi remained unclear.
Both clubs’ managements declined to comment.