Exclusive: Gay Cold War Drama Firebird Met with Protesters at Moscow International Film Festival

Posted 2022/04/20 3 0

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Set during the Cold War at a Soviet Union air base, Firebird tells the real-life tragic romance between Sergey, a soldier who dreams of becoming an actor after his conscripted service ends, and Roman, a fighter pilot who has his eyes on moving up in the military. Based on Sergey Fetisov’s memoir The Story of Roman, Firebird was adapted for the screen by the film’s director Peeter Rebane (making his feature directorial debut) and its lead actor Tom Prior (Kingsman: The Secret Service).

Firebird made its world premiere at the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival in March 2021, effectively carving out a spot for itself among other period movies with LGBTQ+ characters, stories, and themes. After that, the movie made its way through the festival circuit, screening at institutions like Frameline: San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival — where it received an honorable mention for Best First Feature — Outfest in Los Angeles, and Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival (among many others). Despite the love it received at these festivals, Firebird‘s screening at the Moscow International Film Festival was met with outrage.

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Firebird’s Moscow Film Festival Screening Met with Angry Protestors

In our interview ahead of Firebird‘s theatrical release, Prior recalls the “staggering” experience of submitting their movie to the Moscow International Film Festival — “never thinking that they would actually accept the film” — and then being accepted and inserted into the program:

“We [thought], wow, there’s actually a real progression going on there, we’re about to see a real change in Russia about their political stance on LGBTQ+ communities. But then, the first screening went ahead, and a letter was sent to the state prosecution office, saying that [Firebird] should be removed from the festival. There were protesters with banners saying ‘Stop Homosexual Propaganda’ and ninety-three press articles [writing] how awful the film was and how it was shaming the [festival].”

In our separate interview with Rebane, the director echoed Prior’s initial sentiments, applauding “someone very courageous on the Festival’s team who programmed us,” before remarking on the protests:

“The festival was basically forced to stop all ticket sales, cancel orientations, and play the film to an empty audience — which was sad. It just shows how bad things are and why I think this film is so important, especially in light of the last six weeks and what’s been going on. I think more of the world is now starting to become aware of, really, the true nature of Russian politics and the oppressive dictatorship that has literally shut down the opposition.”

Above it all, the reception of Firebird has been largely positive. The Guardian, in fact, likened the movie to a Soviet-era Brokeback Mountain. What’s more, in an interview with Attitude Magazine, Prior recounts the feedback he has received from non-LGBTQ+ audience members who walked away from watching the movie with a greater sense of empathy for the queer community.

Firebird is available exclusively in theaters on April 29.


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