EXCLUSIVE: The documentary Queendom, making its world premiere tonight at the SXSW Film Festival, arrives at a particularly fraught time for LGBTQ culture. Tennessee just imposed a ban on “adult cabaret performances” (in other words, drag shows) in public places or locations where children might glimpse them. Similar legislation is advancing in more than two dozen other states.
Last year, Florida passed a law that prohibits teachers from holding classroom discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity up through grade 3 (the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill) and a Republican legislator there now wants to extend that ban through 8th grade.
But as Queendom shows, the situation arguably is even more dangerous for LGBTQ people in Russia, where the Putin-controlled Russian Parliament late last year passed a law that bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” The star of Queendom, however, is bravely defying Russia’s anti-LGBTQ movement.
“Gena, a queer artist from a small town in Russia, dresses in otherworldly costumes made from junk and tape, and protests the government on the streets of Moscow,” a description of the documentary notes. “Born and raised on the harsh streets of Magadan, a frigid outpost of the Soviet gulag, Gena is only 21. She stages radical performances in public that become a new form of art and activism. By doing that, she wants to change people’s perception of beauty and queerness and bring attention to the harassment of the LGBTQ+ community. The performances – often dark, strange, evocative, and queer at their core – are a manifestation of Gena’s subconscious. But they come at a price.”
Agniia Galdanova directed Queendom. Oscar-nominated filmmaker David France executive produces the film, which is premiering in Documentary Feature Competition. France made the Oscar shortlist for the 2020 documentary Welcome to Chechnya, which investigated the appalling treatment of LGBTQ people in the former Soviet Republic that remains under the thumb of Putin.
We have your first look at Queendom in the dramatic clip above, which shows Gena becoming enmeshed in barbed wire in preparation for a performance. The documentary is directed by Agniia Galdanova and produced by Igor Myakotin and Galdanova. Cinematography is by Ruslan Fedotov; Vlad Fishez is the editor.
“As a teenager, I had a hard time accepting myself and constantly endured humiliation and beatings because of my ‘unfeminine’ look,” Galdanova writes in a director’s statement. “From an early age, I often pretended to be a boy, and wore shapeless clothes and heavy shoes. This was my refuge from the stereotype that a girl should be feminine. Years later, I was beaten up by two men in the very center of Moscow just because they had mistaken me for a guy in a skirt. I decided to explore the themes of sexuality and gender identity further in my work. My initial idea was to follow several drag queens across Russia. One of the first potential characters I met was Gena. After spending time together, I was mesmerized by Gena’s artistry and courage. To me, she wasn’t one of many drag queens. She was an artist embarking on a journey of self-discovery.”
Galdanova continues, “I hope that when someone from Russia or any other country where being queer is illegal watches Queendom, the film and Gena will give them the confidence to accept themselves and share their truth with the world, however dangerous it could be.”
Queendom is an acquisition title at SXSW, with Submarine and UTA handling sales. Additional screenings of the film at SXSW are set for March 12 and March 17 Watch the exclusive clip above.
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