A gay man who survived persecution in Chechnya received a standing ovation Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival.
Maxim Lapunov was one of the panelists at the Q&A following the screening of Welcome to Chechnya, a documentary by David France (The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, How to Survive a Plague) about the violent persecution of LGBTQ community within the Russian republic.
Over 150 people have reportedly been detained — and some killed — in Chechnya since 2017 when the Chechen government first began a "cleansing" campaign against queer people. Lapunov, a Russian who was among those captured and tortured, is one of the few survivors to have come forward publicly about his ordeal.
At the Sundance event, Lapunov stood on the stage and smiled — a powerful gesture, since, as portrayed in the documentary, the activist could barely crawl when he was released after 12 days of detainment and police beatings. The moment was singled out as a highlight of the star-studded opening weekend in Park City, Utah, which included screenings of Taylor Swift's documentary Miss Americana as well as Justin Simien's film Bad Hair.
Sundance marked the world premiere of Welcome to Chechnya, which "shadows a group of activists risking unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic," according to its festival description. The documentary, for which filmmakers obtained unprecedented access to survivors, used digital blurring to mask faces and protect their identities. Early reviews have praised the film as "devastatingly brave" and praised France as "America’s foremost documentarian on LGBTQ issues."
The HBO documentary is produced by Alice Henty, France, Askold Kurov, and Joy A. Tomchin. The film's executive producers are Tomchin, Kevin Jennings, Neal Baer, Masha Gessen, Jonathan Logan, Jess Search, Lekha Singh, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Alan Getz, Justin Mikita, Stan Tomchin, Nancy Abraham, and Lisa Heller. Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, and activists Olga Baranova and David Isteev were also part of the Q&A.