ANIMAL / by Tim Koomen

Genre
Thriller

Language
Russian/English

Synopsis
Ben arrives at the birthday party late. As he gets out of an Uber, he walks towards the square brick building that houses many in one of St. Petersburg's suburbs. Unknowingly to him one of the other guests is Timur, a student he teaches at the university and whom he has a secret affair with. Highly dangerous, as he could possibly lose his job and Timur could get killed by his conservative family.

Four hours later and several things have happened at the party - a fight between the two men and an unpleasant encounter with a young woman who drove them mad with speculation about their connection. Timur lives only a few flights down from the party and as Ben follows him drunk and disappointed, they are unaware of someone following them. Which ends up in one of the darkest nights they'll experience in their lives. 

Both timelines are intercut throughout the film, which leaves room for several reveals. 

This movie is partially based on real life events, about an anti-gay neo nazi group (with the infamous girl Ekaterina Zigunova as their leader) who chased and tortured gay men in Russia. 

Themes
Forbidden love
LGBTQ
Oppression
Hate and fear
Violence as pressure

Similar movies
Green Room
Hard Candy
Hounds of Love
Funny Games
L'inconnu du Lac

Vision
I can still remember the first time I read about the situation in Chechnya. When Russian newspaper Novoya Gazeta released a statement on April 1st about the detention of at least 100 men suspected of being gay, it sent a shock to my system. I was hooked to the story, all the while wondering how this can be happening. I found myself obsessing about it over and over again, talking with friends which turned into one simple question: what can we do?

You see… I’m not a big activist and a part of me always felt bad about that. To balance that out I was always extremely interested in the past of the LGBTIQ-community. While I was chasing another dream - that of becoming a journalist and then that of becoming a filmmaker - I felt that if I wasn’t particularly active the least I could do is be aware and educated. So I devoured documentaries, movies, plays, articles, videos and the best... but also the worst thing to happen to our community.

But might I say: we are blessed. To be living in a time in which western society has built a community that’s so accepted. To be proud and celebrate that pride annually as loud as we do. To be a part of the digital revolution, which allows for people to speak up and lets news and opinions travel faster than the speed of light.

With that also comes a downside. The overabundance of media and the overpopulation of online voices tend to make the world go a little numb. It becomes harder to make an impact. So when the Chechen gay purge found was reported on, the lack of awareness was what struck me. Nobody really seemed to be able to contextualize it and report the mass executions properly. There was barely any fact-checking or depth and with so little known about what happened, media and people seemed to tune out. This being especially something that needs the eyes of the world, because it requires a government to shut down what Chechen authorities under the ruling of their leader Ramzan Kadyrov are doing to gay men.

Here is a strong opinion piece on the matter of (western) media reporting on the Chechen massacre story.

Since I read about the story I decided to dive a little deeper into what's going on in Russia and how their anti-gay propaganda law in 2013 left a big mark. All of a sudden it wasn't safe for people to express themselves and they were living in fear. If they fell into the hands of the wrong people, there was no one to help them. As gay people were being hunted and driven into traps, the police would barely help them. Imagine going on a date with someone and as you walk into the apartment this person is actually a group of people ready to physically attack you. 

This anti-gay propaganda law is actually what took the rest of Russia so long to respond to what's happening in Chechnya. 

Art has always been an important way of making a cultural impact. It can take down leaders and can shift the mindset of a country. It can urge people into taking action. That’s where my film comes in. And while one might consider this being an interesting subject for a documentary, here’s where I’ll explain why this should be fictionalised, why a Dutch filmmaker should be making this and why the time is now.

The only real place this subject has been reported properly on are partly independent online media like Vice, VOX and HBO. One thing that became clear very early on is the level of secrecy the Chechen government is relying on, which makes it hard to report properly. Documentaries have a limited reach in terms of viewers and limited assets to paint a realistic picture. This lack of control made me want to make a small film, one situation played out in one or two locations. It makes it more accessible, you have more space to develop characters and this will lead up to a heartbreaking conclusion that’s most effective after a claustrophobic set up.

The horrible experiences these men faced were preceded by a moment of absolute fear. While we as onlookers can hardly begin to imagine what it was like in those detention centers, the moment that’s even more harrowing is getting caught. That’s something people can identify with, especially since these men were often outed by others. I want to take that moment and visualise it.

I'm looking for...
The budget is set below 1m. For a film with this level of relevance and a specific subject I'm looking for funding and investors in Europe that have a connection with the LGBTQ community. There are several gay organisations that will hopefully understand the importance of a story like this being told. 

A director with an artistic vision as well as a skill for building tension in thrillers. A writer to develop the script with me. 

Distribution