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Berlinale 2020
From Stockholm to Grozny: the Clarity of LGBTQI Cinema

I recently had the chance to see two documentaries together: Always Amber by Lia Hietala and Hannah Reinikainen, and Welcome to Chechnya, by David France.

By Gabriele Magro

A dangerous gaze

Amber is nonbinary and lives in Stockholm. Along with the incomprehensible eruption known to everyone as adolescence, she must also undergo the trauma of not recognizing herself in her own body. So - psychiatrists, pronouns, Pride and all the rest that comes to mind if all this is considered from the standpoint of the First World gaze. An extremely dangerous gaze, still more so after seeing Welcome to Chechnya, which describes the anti-gay pogroms that began in 2017 amid the (complicit) silence of Chechen and Russian authorities. The film speaks of dozens of women and men tortured and a considerable number killed, drawing on the testimony of NGOs fighting bureaucracy to obtain exit visas and refugee status for those fleeing the persecution.

Nothing falls from the sky

It struck me that it's so easy, watching from here, to kid ourselves that 1) here there is nothing to protest about, whereas in Russia they'd be thrown in jail; and 2) that those things happen in those far away and primitive places, not here where we're as supremely advanced, open and civilized as mineral water bottle slogans.  The pitfall lies in the belief that rights simply fall from the sky - in forgetting that Stockholm was made a place where a young trans woman could feel safe thanks to activists' protest and troublemaking, followed - oh, the shock! - by the all-naked Gay Pride. In forgetting that living as a trans person was classified as mental illness in Sweden until 2008; in failing to notice that Chechnya is always on tour and visisted our gay-friendly capital only last week.

Claiming rights is legitimate everywhere

LGBTQI cinema has always had the huge virtue of confronting non-fiction with disarming clarity and force. Both of these documentaries are excellent, if you have the opportunity to see them. Seen together, however, they work to beat rhetorical pitfalls - like Super Mario, jumping clean over a pit instead of falling into it! - reminding us that the great struggle for emancipation is fought on countless different fronts, that victories are never permanent and that claiming rights is as legitimate in Stockholm as in Grozny.