Upcoming screenings will feature the documentary film Paragraph 175. Visit the website for information on screenings and see dates and locations below.
The People's Film Club will also bring the film to the Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival taking place in London from 1-10 September. This screening is organized by Tracey Francis.
Gavin Kelleher: We are a group of activists from across the UK that are working to set up film screenings of Paragraph 175 in cinemas across the country, with all profits going to the Russian LGBT Network.
Paragraph 175 is an academy award-winning documentary that brings to life the experiences of gay men and women in Nazi German concentration camps. We hope that the parallels of the documentary with what is happening right now in Chechnya will encourage those that watch the film to take their own forms of positive action, to support those most at risk and to challenge the oppressors.
Right now we have screenings set up for cinemas in London, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham. We are still reaching out to cinemas in other cities, too, over the next couple of weeks, but as the screenings start to happen from the end of May, we will all be concentrating our efforts on promoting those coming up.
At some of the screenings we are inviting speakers to attend, too, so at the Rio Dalston screening on May 21st the human rights activist Peter Tatchell will be giving a talk, and Amnesty International’s LGBT division will be running a stall and letting the audience know more about what is happening on the ground in Chechnya and what they can do to help. It would be great to get more speakers onboard, too, at our other events, especially those outside of London, so some of us are currently working on that.
Tracey Francis: At what point did you decide it was time to start an activist film club when there are many organisations on local and global levels promoting LGBT rights?
GK: When we first started out I don’t think any of us intended to start an activist film club, we just knew we wanted to do something to support those suffering in Chechnya, those who have been detained in the camps themselves or those living in fear of them.
A few of us that were involved in other activist groups, mainly Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, got together and started brainstorming on what we could to to help. We spent some time looking at boycotts of Chechen exports, but this turned out to be nearly entirely gas and fuel, and energy divestment campaigns wouldn’t have any results for years at the earliest and do little to provide help to those who need it now.
There was a lot of media attention on what was happening in Chechnya but not many ways to take action in response to it besides a few petitions set up by human rights organisations and campaigners. Even the few articles I saw titled something along the lines of ‘7 things you can do to help LGBT people in Chechnya today’ didn’t really encourage readers to do much beyond letter writing and petitioning MPs.
It was in these articles though that I started to become aware of the work the Russian LGBT Network were doing in Chechnya to evacuate and resettle those most at risk. It was when reading about their work, real inspiring activism, that we thought wow, that is exactly what we need to be supporting.
It was clear from the outset that they needed financial support, but it’s quite difficult for the general public to donate to them. There are a few Paypal links circulating now but when the news first broke those that wanted to donate to the Russian LGBT Network had to get in touch with them by email to request their bank details to make a BACS payment, making crowd fundraising more difficult than usual.
The Peter Tatchell Foundation’s newsletter hit my inbox at about the same time as we were brainstorming, and it was their review of the 2001 documentary Paragraph 175. I don’t think they intended it as a call to action, but reading it at the right time I got in touch with the directors to let them know what we intended to do and we agreed a reduction in the licensing fee for TPFC’s public showings.
There are other groups across the country organising protests, petitioning politicians and calling on the Russian state to intervene -- this is all super important stuff, it’s where change is likely to be seen in the long term, and with enough pressure and momentum we hope the Chechen authority’s ability to detain, torture and kill with impunity will be curtailed. In the meantime, though we believe that the safest place for LGBT people in Chechnya is outside of Chechnya, and through our fundraising we are helping to get them there.
TF: Are you planning on approaching educational organisations to do screenings or do you hope they will contact you?
GK: So far most of our efforts have been concentrated on setting up screenings in cinemas because they appeal to the wider public, and that’s exactly how we want to frame this issue. It isn’t just students and activists and LGBT groups that should be outraged with what is happening in Chechnya, the entire population should.
That being said, as our group has expanded we have become a real mix of people from different places and different backgrounds. Some of us have really good relationships with university groups already, and we have looked at setting up screenings in educational organisations where possible.
Sheffield Hallam University got in touch with us to let us know that they are going to run their own screening of Paragraph 175 on May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia Biphobia and Transphobia. They will still be donating their profits to the Russian LGBT Network, too, and we have offered them as much support as they need with the event.
There are other ways that university and other education groups can support our fundraisers, too, and that is by helping to promote the existing screenings we have set up in their cities. Manchester, Nottingham and Leeds student LGBT societies have been a really helpful way for us to promote the events we have coming up, and we would love to work with other student groups to do the same.
If any other educational organisations do want to set up screenings we would encourage them to get in touch with us as soon as possible, and it would be great to get more screenings set up with them, too.
KM: What are some of your greatest needs at the moment? And how can people get involved with The People’s Film Club?
GK: At the moment we are still in the growing stage, where our priority is to reach as many cinemas in as many cities across the UK as possible. When we started this project, we wanted to make it as accessible as possible for people to get involved -- after all, it is their film club. We want people to set up screenings in their own communities, and we provide template emails for approaching cinemas and a centralised social media platform and website where they need it, too. That’s the first way for people to get involved -- they can email us and we’ll get back to them with everything they need to approach local cinemas.
We are also trying to make a big impact with social media and publicity -- we have screenings coming up in five cities* across the country but unless anyone knows they are happening we are not going to get the money raised. We have been reaching out on social media to local groups and also approaching media contacts for publicity too. Anyone can help us out with this really simply, just by visiting our Facebook page and inviting their friends to our upcoming events, and sharing them on their own social media accounts, too.
Finally… attend! We want as many people as possible to attend the screenings, and not just for their donations. Paragraph 175 is an inspiring documentary that captures the realities of the devastating consequences of homophobia, and our screenings provide a space to get charged up, inspired and reactionary. We want people to be walking out of cinemas across the country thinking about what they can do to support those at risk in Chechnya, and with an understanding of how important it is for them to be vocal in doing so.
*More screenings have been added since this interview was conducted the week of May 7, 2017.