Residents of Park City buy locals passes for Sundance to see movies. We have many choices of films, days and times and it is overwhelming and sells out rapidly and the website crashes a lot, but these are not real problems.
With my 2020 locals pass I picked a bunch of stuff to see midday by myself, but also got two tickets to see Welcome to Chechnya with Jace. It’s a documentary about LGBTQ persecution in that republic, which sounded appropriate for an LGBTQ high school sophomore/ budding social activist.
We discussed it excitedly in during the run-up. He told all his friends about it. I told all my friends about it.
As the festival got underway, I found myself standing in line one morning next to a guy with a Welcome to Chechnya button on his festival pass lanyard.
“Oh, my son and I are going to see that later in the week!” I told him. He replied with a pronounced Eastern European accent.
“Are you part of the film crew?” At Sundance that is a normal question to which the answer is frequently yes.
The answer was yes. He was an editor.
“Are you going to be at the screening Thursday?” I asked brightly. He shook his head and said basically that he had attended the premiere but could not bear to watch it again and was going home.
A couple of days later, I saw a mini-clip of an official Sundance person describing Welcome to Chechnya as a miracle for even having been made without its creators being killed.
When Thursday came, we got ourselves ready for a night on the town, and headed to the theater. As we stood in line to enter, a Sundance volunteer approached.
“How old are you?” she asked Jace.
“Fifteen!” he answered immediately, confidently.
“This is an 18-and-over movie,” she said.
Our jaws dropped. I did the rapid-fire thinking about how to convince her to let us in without sounding like an entitled asshole. I threw out some “we’re locals, my son is a high school sophomore active in the GSA club” type stuff. She looked stricken and left to get her manager.
We waited, hoping they would forget to return. They didn’t.
The manager very apologetically explained the movie ratings system and concluded with the fact that there was NO WAY Jace was going inside. (She also acknowledged that Sundance had erred by not including this pertinent information on its website, movie description or tickets.)
She gave us vouchers we could use for other movies or a refund.
We were crushed and filled with consternation, but we moved on and crafted an alternate plan for the evening. We consoled ourselves with the fact that the film had already been bought by HBO so we’d see it eventually.
A few days later I caught a snippet of another Sundance executive saying Welcome to Chechnya was the most difficult thing she had ever watched.
And I realized how lucky we were not to have been admitted. Belatedly, I googled to read more about the movie.
From a review on Variety: “The pre-existing material in “Welcome to Chechnya” is by far its most distressing: grainy cellphone and surveillance camera footage of real-life homophobic attacks in the republic, including a gay couple confronted mid-kiss by a gang of jeering men, and a young woman dragged from a car and bludgeoned by a male relative in an apparent honor killing. These horrific flashes regularly punctuate the action, emphasizing the constant peril faced by its Chechen subjects.”
From a review on Screen Daily: “Degenerate outsiders, decadent influences, and a nation whose only defense is to “purify” its bloodlines through oppression, incarceration and, ultimately, extermination. It is the age-old language of genocide. And today, in the Russian Republic of Chechnya, it is public policy, and its targets are gay men and women.”
Daily Beast headline: “The Horrific Gay Purge Documentary Every Human Must See”
Photo caption: “Welcome to Chechnya. Welcome to Hell.”
Is 15 a good age for a trans gay kid to watch victims describe being tortured for being LGBTQ? To view explicit footage of LGBTQ murders sanctioned by a government? Probably not. Jace hasn’t even watched Boys Don’t Cry yet.
It was naive of me to assume the movie would be somehow less than devastating. Things have been too smooth around here; maybe I let my guard down. Maybe I never put my guard up after Jace came out last spring, because that all went so unfailingly well with every single person we know here and elsewhere – family, friends, neighborhood, colleagues, new acquaintances, school community.
The most intense thing that happened was when I told a neighbor that Jace was trans and she said she would pray for us. Even that wasn’t bad. She said it so nicely that I responded with “thank you,” and then she hung around to finish the conversation so it didn’t seem too too weird.
Jace lives in a progressive acceptance bubble, which is surely wonderful in most respects. He swaggers around town so innocently, wearing flashy rainbow suspenders, custom trans-flag sneakers, brightly dyed hair, provocative messages on his T-shirts.
He has yet to get a bad response. To last year’s 4th of July parade on Main Street he wore his “Make America Gay Again” T-shirt. A parader stopped as she passed us, read it and put a plastic lei around his neck in appreciation.
As we grownups know, that look could easily get him attacked or even killed in some parts of our own country.
The age-old dilemma of preparing children for the wider world versus preserving their innocence takes on more significance when what we must prepare our son for is a society that may react to him with anything from employment and social discrimination to life-threatening harassment and violence. He is a member of a targeted minority group and for his own safety he needs to understand and be constantly aware of that.
Speak out, be your glorious self, work hard to make the world a more accepting, loving place, yes, but honey, keep your eye on your surroundings while you do it.
Pete and I talk about how we will require him to take self-defense classes before leaving for college. How we’ll veto certain geographical areas to even consider for college. How he must prioritize social setting and campus and community attitudes when choosing a school even if he would prefer to focus on academic offerings.
There are some deeply depressing things about the world we need to impart to him – gradually – before he leaves this heavenly pocket of good cheer and flower necklaces.
But maybe it’s not quite time for Welcome to Chechnya.