When director David France and executive producers Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Justin Mikita set out to document the horrific true tale of persecution taking place among LGBTQ-identifying people in Chechnya, the three filmmakers were put in a tough position. Their documentary, “Welcome to Chechnya,” needed to protect those involved and it needed to be completed quickly because of situation’s urgency.

To guard the identities of the Chechnyan refugees interviewed, they used face replacement technology, similar to deepfake, an artificially intelligent technology that allows users to replace the faces of people in videos with anyone of their choosing. Though, unlike previous examples of deepfake-manipulated videos, its use in the film is used to protect their subjects.

“This is certainly the first time it’s been used for good and the first time it’s been used in a feature length film. Nobody’s tried this before. What this does is not related to deep fake. Deep fake manipulates reality. This allows us to see reality and see what’s happening,” France shared. “It allows people who aren’t able to show their face or tell their own story to regain that power by wearing the skin of somebody else as a shield. So, it’s empowering. It restores humanity.”

“These people are in imminent danger. Even when they get out of Chechnya into Moscow or in Europe anywhere, Kadyrov’s Army sort of reaches further than anyone wants him to,” Mikita said. “So, it’s scary for them. We need them to tell these stories; but at the same time, we need to protect them.”

Motivated by stories that fell out of the news cycle centered around the abuse and oppression, France wanted to reveal the plight of the people still in Chechnya and highlight those who helped others escape. “The absence of any governmental intervention of any sort, the Queer community had pulled together in a remarkable way to build an underground railroad to try to bring people out to safety,” France said. “I was fascinated by that and wanted to go and learn how they had done that, and what they were working against. And to try and bring this story back to the headlines.”

Following its acquisition by HBO, “Welcome to Chechnya” is scheduled for a June debut on the network.

The Variety Sundance Studio is Presented by AT&T.