Van Sant Headed to Russian Fest Despite Bomb Threats to Gay-Themed Event

Side by Side in St. Petersburg recently fought authorities over fine but won in court ruling

Gus Van Sant

The team behind “Milk” — director Gus Van Sant, writer Dustin Lance Black and producer Bruce Cohen — will be traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, for a closing-night screening Nov. 30 of the 2008 film at the LGBT-themed festival Bok o Bok (Side by Side), according to a report in U.K. newspaper the Guardian.

Van Sant will lead a discussion about the film at the festival.

Earlier this year, the festival was targeted by Russia’s fierce anti-gay campaigners, and was fined 400,000 rubles ($12,000) and named a “foreign agent” by authorities, citing suspicions that the festival received money from overseas sources. The Kremlin ruled this year that all non-government organizations must register if they receive funding from overseas. Festival organizers denied the allegations. The festival has also been under scrutiny because of the Russian law that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”

But in a victory for the fest and gay-rights advocates, a St. Petersburg court recently overturned the ruling and cancelled the fine, although the festival is working overtime to stress to authorities that all events are for audiences aged 18 and up.

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But the festival’s Nov. 21 opening night was marred by bomb threats, and the festival had to reschedule screenings on Nov. 23 due to a hoax bomb threat, according to the fest’s website.

The anti-gay campaign has heated up in Russia this year, behind the restrictive laws passed by the central government in Moscow as well as anti-gay rights laws enacted by regional governments. President Vladimir Putin has often spoken out in defense of the anti-gay laws, and protestors have clashed with police at gay rights demonstrations.

The big test for Russia, however, is the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Already many athletes have spoken out and condemned Russia’s laws, but widespread boycotts have not been initiated.