A powerful new film about the Sochi Olympic Games and their effects on the Russian LGBT community will premiere on EPIX this Wednesday night. The film, To Russia With Love, follows several people - including Johnny Weir, Olympic speedskater Anastasia Bucsis and Russian activist Konstantin Yablotskiy - as they prepare for the Olympics and blaze their own trail of activism in hopes of helping and inspiring LGBT Russians.
Weir acts as the window into the behind-the-scenes small-knit community that grew up inside the hubbub around the Sochi Olympics.
Weir lets a lot of vulnerability show in the film. He talks candidly about his frustration with how he is viewed by people in the gay community, some of them loving him and others vilifying him. He also talks frankly about his love of Russia and what he said was his one mistake during the months leading up to the Sochi Games: calling four LGBT activists "idiots." Weir also doesn't shy away from the pressure his participation in the Olympics put on his crumbling marriage.
"My hope is that people will go into the film with an open mind and leave with an open heart," Weir told Outsports. "I wanted to hear from the activists who protested my speeches and the athletes who were going to Russia. I want people to remember why they were so upset last summer. We have the attention spans of fruit flies.
"I went into the project with an open mind becuase I wanted to hear all of this. I left the production with an open heart. I'm much more compelled to support activism and waving flags and punching fists now."
The most compelling part of the film experience for Weir was meeting Vlad, a 17-year-old gay activist in Sochi - the only gay activist in Sochi. Vlad has a powerful impact on the entire film. You can see it in Billie Jean King's face as she listens to Vlad explain to her the daily torment he endures in his school where, because he is openly gay with his classmates, he is considered to be promoting homosexuality to minors.
"Vlad came unexpectedly into the production," Weir said. "He found us and heard what we were doing through secret channels. The whole film was shot in secret. Vlad opened my eyes to the importance of activism. He's growing up in Sochi, standing there solo fighting for gay rights. He took off my rose-colored glasses and made me see what was really happen to gay people in the country I love."
Vlad has since been granted asylum in the United States, where he is finishing his schooling. Watching him experience New York City - and the Big Apple's Gay Pride - for the first time is an incredible reminder of the difference between American and Russian cultures.
The film also addresses the completely missed opportunity by any of the athletes at the Olympics to send a real message about LGBT issues. There was no Black Fist moment, a la 1968.
"The closest thing was me wearing a pink blazer," said Weir. No doubt his presence - Chanel and sparklies and all - opened some eyes.
"When Johnny walks into a room," Jason Collins says in the film, "99% of the room knows that he is gay and that he is very proud of the fact that he is gay."
Some Russian LGBT activists talk openly in the film about their disappointment in the lack of activism at the Olympics by people from the West. They were promised support, but during the Olympics they saw nothing. "It was a betrayal," said one.
The Russian Open Games - a sporting event designed to empower LGBT Russians - is also featured, including smoke bombs, nefarious efforts by the government to shut them down and an inspirational visit from openly gay former Olympic diver Greg Louganis.
The production is of the highest quality. It looks gorgeous (who wouldn't want to take a sleigh ride through the Canadian Rockies?), the music is spot-on and the producers recruited many of the right people to showcase the issues with smarts and heart.
You can see the film, To Russia With Love, on EPIX this Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 8pmET.
To Russia With Love: Clip 3 from EPIX PR on Vimeo.