We caught up with director Agniia Galdanova - director of Queendom - ahead of its release at Bertha DocHouse.
Queendom follows young performance artist Gena Marvin, an activist who takes to the streets of Russia, confronting the conservative public in extravagant, otherworldly costumes. This transfixing film is a portrait of performance as resistance, just as courageous and original as its protagonist.
Ahead of its release at DocHouse this Friday, we caught up with director Agniia Galdanova on why she was drawn to Gena’s story, queer community and art, and the attack on LGBTQ+ rights in Russia.
What drew you to make Queendom and why did you feel that Gena’s story was an important one to tell?
I wanted to bring on screen an inspiring story from the Russian queer community. To not only focus on problems and challenges which are crucial to discuss, but also to celebrate the beauty of queerness and to spark conversations in the community.
I was really drawn to Gena’s artistry and the way she sees the world. I believe her story is universal, and hopefully it will encourage people to speak up for themselves and give them a feeling that they are not alone, but also would open some hearts for more acceptance and understanding of each other.
Can you talk about how you managed the relationship between Gena, the public and the camera? Did the presence of the camera affect the reception of Gena’s performance pieces?
It was a delicate balance between the public, the camera and Gena. We never tried to hide the camera, it’s one of the most important principles in my work: everyone who is filmed has to be aware that he is filmed. Even during Gena’s interactions with the law enforcement officers, they could clearly see they were being filmed. Gena would often lead the way, and people wouldn’t notice the camera because she is the spectacle.
We tried to not interfere with her performance which always was the main play. The goal was to capture the raw, authentic moments and be with Gena and to see the world through her eyes. No one could ignore her, even if they wanted to! During risky scenes, like the protest, for example, we had to do some preparation beforehand: alert the lawyers, prepare in case of arrest, and have someone monitor the location.
Can you describe what it is like for LGBTQ+ people living in Russia today? How have the conditions for queer people changed in Russia during your lifetime?
LGBTQ+ people are in imminent danger in Russia right now. Queer people describe the situation as hell. It’s life or death for them. Since the adoption of anti-gay and anti-trans laws, Russia’s justice ministry just today on 30th of November recognized so-called the “international LGBT movement” as extremist and banned its activities. This will certainly lead to numerous arrests. And they will fully ban the activities of a handful of LGBTQ+ organizations that are doing important work to support the LGBTQ+ population, especially the youth who are often left abandoned by their families.
The crackdown on LGBTQ rights in Russia started a decade ago when they adopted anti-gay propaganda law among minors. Since then, the crackdown has heavily escalated. It’s all a part of the state propaganda that relies on older voters and “traditional values,” especially now while entering the presidential elections in 2024. And it only creates hatred and violence among the population. You can see a vibrant queer community in Queendom, and it breaks my heart that they – many of whom are my friends – are forced to flee the country or go underground in order to stay alive.
Has the film been shown to any communities in Russia? If so, how has it been received?
One of our priorities from the start has been to share the film with the LGBTQ+ community in Russia as well as the general population. And we are happy to say that soon we’ll be able to share the film with the general public in Russia in the safest way possible. Stay tuned and follow the film on social media.
You can watch Queendom at Bertha DocHouse from Friday 1 December. Book tickets here.