The HBO film Welcome to Chechnya has won a coveted Peabody Award and famed author and journalist Ronan Farrow will present the award. The 2020 documentary from gay documentarian David France follows undercover activists as they secretly filmed and documented the brutal and ongoing purge of the LGBTQ+ community in the Chechen Republic. The film showed how a modern underground railroad of dedicated queer activists extracts threatened folks from the republic which borders the Caspian Sea in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia.
"The filmmakers trace the indefatigable efforts of activists who deliver rescued victims to safe houses and provide visa assistance for their refuge," the Peabody Awards said in a statement announcing the win. "In the process, the film employs innovative techniques of artificial intelligence and facial replacement visual effects to protect the identities of the subjects while allowing viewers to see authentic facial features, expressions, and emotions. For a powerful, harrowing story of ruthless persecution, audacious courage, and human survival, Welcome to Chechnya wins a Peabody Award."
France and producer Alice Henty, Joy A. Tomchin, and Askhold Kurov used a series of hidden cameras and cell phones to record the stories of the persecuted and expose the actions of both the government and local groups that continue to target the LGBTQ+ community. Ramzan Kadyrov is the first to hold the office of Head of the Chechen Republic, which he's held off and on since it was created in 2011. He was previously the President of the Chechen Republic, a position abolished in 2011. France told the Advocate he felt a need to tell this story in part because nobody else was reporting on Kadyrov's purge at the time it was happening.
"Nothing else was published about it," France told the Advocate last year. "No world leaders were demanding accountability from Russia in any way. It was a story that just died."
The documentary exposed a state-sanctioned effort to use kidnapping, arrest, torture, and execution to purge the nation of LGBTQ+ people and influences. France said he was left stunned and emotionally distraught by the levels of violence he witnessed against a defenseless community.
"I was heartbroken by the extent of the injuries that people were suffering," France recalls. "There was a young man there whose skull had been cracked open, who'd been dropped back at his parents' house and left for dead on the doorstep [and] many families were pressed into finishing the act for the government. The government started demanding so-called honor killings. Demanding them, enforcing them, bringing in relatives of gay people, and saying, 'Why have you not killed this person yet?' In today's world, it was just stunning to me."
Watch Farrow's tribute to the film here.
You can watch the trailer for HBO's Welcome to Chechnya gay documentarian David France below.