2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: WELCOME TO CHECHNYA

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA | Courtesy of Sundance Institute

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA
David France reveals a state-sanctioned policy to rid Chechnya of LGBTQ+ individuals, and those brave enough to risk their lives to help the embattled community.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

Searing urgency is a guiding force as WELCOME TO CHECHNYA shadows a group of activists who risk unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic. Since 2016, Chechnya’s tyrannical leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has waged a depraved operation to “cleanse the blood” of LGBTQ+ Chechens, overseeing a government-directed campaign to detain, torture, and execute them. With no help from the Kremlin and only faint global condemnation of the violence, a vast and secretive network of activists takes matters into its own hands.

With unfettered access, Academy Award nominee David France (HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, 2012 Sundance Film Festival) chronicles a modern-day underground railroad, using a remarkable approach to protect the anonymity of his subjects. France is the perfect filmmaker to tell this story. He’s a warrior with a camera and the ultimate purveyor of the imperative of documentary to expose atrocity and ignite change. With scorching power that will leave you quaking in your seat, WELCOME TO CHECHNYA dares to confront genocide in the making.

Some Background:

Director/Producer/Writer:

  • David France
    Past Sundance docs:

    HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE

    Public Square Films’ France is an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated filmmaker, as well as a Peabody Award winner and New York Times best-selling author. He is a veteran journalist, having held editorial positions at Newsweek and New York Magazine.

Producers:

  • Alice Henty
    Past Sundance docs:

    SKY LADDER: THE ART OF CAI GUO-QIANG (2016, co-producer)

    Henty also line produced several Sundance alums, such as HAPPY VALLEY (2014), CITIZEN KOCH (2013), BUCK (2011), and THE TILLMAN STORY (2010).

  • Askold Kurov

    Kurov, who is also one of the film’s cinematographers, is an Uzbekistan born filmmaker who has lived in Russia since 1991. His previous work as documentary director/producer has focused on human rights issues within Russia, including the features CHILDREN 404, about LGBTQ+ Russian youth dealing with persecution; and THE TRIAL: THE STATE OF RUSSIA VS OLEG SENTOV, about a Ukrainian film director sentenced to 20 years in prison for his political activism.

Producer/Executive Producer:

  • Joy A Tomchin
    Past Sundance docs:

    HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE

    Tomchin is co-founder of Public Square Films in partnership with David France. In addition to a long career in real estate, she has been an activist in the LGBTQ+, women’s and children’s rights movement, including serving on the board of GMHC beginning in 1987.

Co-Producer:

  • Igor Myakotin

    Myakotin is a New York City-based documentary filmmaker and cinematographer originally from the Russian Far East. This is his first Sundance credit.

Co-Producer/Editor/Writer:

  • Tyler H Walk
    Past Sundance docs:

    HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE

    Walk is an Emmy-nominated editor. He also co-produced and edited France’s second doc feature, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P JOHNSON.

Executive Producers:

  • Masha Gessen

    Gessen is a queer Russian-American journalist, author, and LGBTQ+ rights activist, known for criticism of both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Gessen has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 2017.

  • Jess Search
    Past Sundance docs:

    COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD (2019, via Bertha Foundation)
    WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? (2013)
    DIRTY WARS (2013)
    THE END OF THE LINE (2009)
    THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD (2009)
    UNKNOWN WHITE MALE (2005)

    Search is chief executive of Doc Society. She previously was a commissioning editor for Channel 4, and founded Shooting People. Search also executive produced fellow 2020 Sundance doc SOFTIE, in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

  • Kevin Jennings
    Past Sundance docs:

    OUT OF THE PAST (1998, associate producer)

    Jennings is CEO of Lambda Legal, which advocates for LGBTQ+ civil rights through litigation, education, and public policy work. He previously founded GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; served as an Assistant Secretary of Education for President Obama; and led LGBTQ+ rights organization Arcus Foundation.

  • Neal Baer

    Baer is a television writer/producer (UNDER THE DOME, LAW & ORDER: SVU, ER), pediatrician, and philanthropist focused on LGBTQ+ rights and healthcare issues.

  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Justin Mikita

    The Emmy-nominated Ferguson is best known for MODERN FAMILY, while his husband, Justin Mikita, is social innovator, former development director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and a board member of the Human Rights Campaign. This is their first Sundance producing credit.

  • Alan Getz
    Past Sundance docs:

    HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE

    Getz also executive produced France’s THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P JOHNSON.

  • Lekha Singh
    Past Sundance docs:

    AKICITA: THE BATTLE OF STANDING ROCK (2018)
    BENDING THE ARC (2017)
    THE SQUARE (2013)

    The Emmy-nominated Singh is an acclaimed photographer whose work is part of the collections of LACMA, the ICA, the Smithsonian, and the Rubin Museum of Art.

  • Stan Tomchin
    Past Sundance docs:

    HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE

    Tomchin is a philanthropist who is a longtime supporter LGBTQ+ organizations like GMHC. He is Joy A Tomchin’s brother, and also executive produced France’s THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P JOHNSON.

Why You Should Watch:
In his previous films, France has chronicled the historical struggles of LGBTQ+ individuals. In his latest project, he channels his background as an investigative journalist to expose to the world a present-day, ongoing crisis akin to ethnic cleansing. The result is an urgent, must-see project.

More Info:
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For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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