Article Title:Doco fest preview: To Russia With Love
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:21st May 2015 - 09:04 am
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Story ID:16859
Text:A film featuring New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup and other athletes in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics opens at the Documentary Edge International Film Festival tonight. To Russia With Love looks at the decision Olympians faced as Russia stepped up its state-sanctioned homophobia – whether to protest, or compete in silence. Narrated by Jane Lynch, it features Johnny Weir, Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis, Jason Collins, and activist Stephen Fry, along with Russian activists and exiles. It also includes gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup. While he ultimately very narrowly missed out on competing at Sochi, he had been planning to make a stand by wearing a rainbow pin on his national uniform. “It was a lot of fun, and quite a moving and memorable experience,” Skjellerup tells “We only filmed five times, but they were all long and mostly cold days in the Canadian winter. There was one scene that didn't make the cut, but Johnny Weir and I were on an outdoor ice rink, it was minus 25 degrees and snowing, and the director was looking for cinematic brilliance. All I remember is that I couldn't feel any part of my body I was that cold.” Through the film he met a group of young gay Russian exiles. “These poor kids had fled their home country because they were threatened and unsafe, all due to the fact that they were gay. Hearing their story and struggle was heart breaking, and made the making of the film and speaking out about the issue in Russia all the more important.” Since the Olympics, the spotlight has come off Russia and the lgbti rights situation there. Skjellerup says it’s hard to stress in words how important it is to keep the global awareness up. “The Olympic Games is what brought the attention to the issue, and right now it is difficult to say what can keep that visibility and action there to help our lgbti friends in Russia advocate for change. “I think the world now looks at Russia and what it has become and done under Vladimir Putin's rein and shakes its head. Fighting for change in that country looks like a long hard road ahead, and I think further sanctions need to be implemented to tackle the human rights violations and excessive and wrongful use of power.” Skjellerup is delighted the documentary is screening in New Zealand and hopes people who see To Russia With Love understand and see the struggle and hardships people face in Russia every day. “There is such a contrast between the subjects in the film, myself included, and everyone has an opinion on what to or not to do to bring about a change.” To Russia With Love screens in Auckland on Thursday 21 May, Wednesday 27 May and Sunday 31 May, and in Wellington on Saturday 6 June, Friday 12 June and Sunday 14 June. Tickets and more info here We’ll have more on the two other Documentary Edge International Film Festival selections of interest this year soon: Gayby Baby and Auckland couple Andy Jalfon and Skot Barnett’s short Te Manu Ahi. Jacqui Stanford - 21st May 2015    
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