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III International Side by Side Film Festival Starts!

Russia’s only Lesbian and Gay film festival Side by Side kicked off at 19.30 on 15 October 2010 at cinema multiplex Varshavsky Express in St. Petersburg.The packed house and festive atmosphere in the cinema hall was both a joy and a surprise for the participants and organizers of Russia’s first and only LGBT film festival. As Manny de Guerre, festival founder, noted for the first time in three years since the founding of the festival this was the most the most celebratory-like opening of the festival. For the very first time the opening of the festival in Saint Petersburg took place in a regular cinema hall. The opening was highly attended and many were left without seating, visitors crowding the steps of the cinema hall. This year’s festival garnered the support of both European cultural institutes, Russian and foreign filmmakers.

Fighting for its rights has been a way of life of the festival since the very beginning. Polina Savchenko, an activist of the LGBT organization Coming Out and Russian LGBT Network, backed Manny de Guerre’s words and spoke of the time when the festival was a cultural and social outcast. In 2008 venues which had agreed to screen the festival programme pulled out after threats from various state agencies. More recently, as part of the regional tour of the festival, homophobic demonstrations were organized against Side by Side in Archangel and Kemerovo. The goals of Side by Side are in fact peaceful: to build open cultural spaces where homosexual and transgender people are able to affirm, question and extend their identities, while at the same time through screening the best examples of modern cinema facilitate dialogue with society in order to challenge the myths and stereotypes which continue to hamper the development of the LGBT community in Russia

Through the persistence of the organizers, partners and numerous volunteers of the film festival coupled with their strong belief in their cause it was made possible for Side by Side to become stronger in St. Petersburg and gather over 170 people at the opening ceremony. The audience included both members of the LGBT community and a broad general public including enthusiasts of contemporary art and cinematography. From the very outset the festival seeks to be not only an important social event aimed at protecting and supporting sexual minorities but a cultural event with the objective of creating and developing the modern language of cinema.

In her welcoming address, Manny de Guerre, underlined the fact that Side by Side festivals will continue to be held in various Russian regions, in spite of the suppression of the regional Russian authorities that was displayed this year.
“The message sent by the authorities in Russian regions is clear: “No. Impossible. It’s not necessary. You are not worthy people.” We always have a reply: “Yes, It’s possible. It’s necessary. We are worthy people.”
This year Side by Side garnered the support of famous western directors such as Pedro Almodovar from Spain, American director and script writer Gus Van Sant, British director Ken Loach, British actor, film director and writer Stephen Fry, Russian actor Sergey Bugayev (Africa) and film critic and columnist of the Kommersant publishing house Mikhail Trofimenkov.

At the opening ceremony an address from Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights to the Council of Europe was read. Thomas Hammarberg stressed in his letter: “…the right to freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every individual... I look forward to positive feedback following the third Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival, and it is my hope that we will see a positive change of attitude and an end to persisting patterns of homophobia and transphobia.”

Representatives of various partnering organizations – the Director of the Goethe Cultural Centre in St. Petersburg Friedrich Dahlhaus and consul of the Consulate General of Sweden Christina Johannesson – also made welcoming speeches, congratulating organizers on the third Side by Side and paying tribute to their persistence in the face of opposition.

Among the guests: Swedish animator Lasse Persson, Israeli director Tomer Heymann and Danish documentary directors Iben Haahr Andersen and Minna Grooss.

The festival began with the Canadian film I Killed My Mother by a young director, script writer and actor Xavier Dolan who has won many awards at international festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival and the Moscow Festival of Arthouse Films 2morrow in 2009.
Throughout the week 37 films will be shown along with master classes and discussions.

This year the festival will have for the very first time an award: BOBIK. BOBIK a daschund will be awarded for the best feature, documentary and animation film.

Throughout the festival BOBIK will help the homeless dogs and cats of St. Petersburg. Money collected at the festival will be given to the public organization “Centre for Aid to Homeless Animals POTERYASHKA (Lost Pet)”, which takes care of homeless animals in St. Petersburg.

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