Last week, in continuation of what threatens to become a proud Petersburg tradition, city fire inspectors closed down The Place and Sochi, two nightclubs that had been scheduled to host the Side by Side International LGBT Film Festival. In the wake of these events and as the festival went underground (another proud Petersburg tradition) at secret screening locations throughout the city, John Cameron Mitchell, the award-winning director of Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch and festival guest of honor, sat down with Sergey Chernov to talk about the scandal around the festival, official homophobia, Peter the Great, the advantages of a strict Catholic upbringing, Samuel Beckett, Plato, and the beauty of old Russian songs.
Q: It seems as if you go from festival to festival collecting awards. Then you come to St. Petersburg, and it’s a totally different situation. When did you learn about the problem?
A: It was just last week that they found out that Pik [cinema centre] dropped out, breaking the contract. So they had been struggling for the last week to find alternative spaces. Then, the day of the opening, they heard from the space that the fire department was harassing them and closing them. Because they couldn’t communicate to all the audiences and the press so quickly, they were all going to meet outside The Place and talk about what was happening. Suddenly lots of police and rapid response units [showed up], as if it was a riot or something.
We were going to meet outside The Place, where all the audiences and the press were going. We also wanted to tell them what was happening, so there wouldn’t be problems, and also to let them know we had alternate plans for screenings. They have been already doing screenings today: we have a system where we’ve had to keep it private. It’s like the Soviet era, people calling each other on the phone. Avoiding the Internet. Continue reading