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Kremlin Shuts Down Russia’s Only LGBT Film Festival

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Government officials cited a 'difficult economic situation,' but organizers of the film festival see further evidence of the country's crackdown on LGBT visibility. 

Pictured: Two men kissing at the Side by Side film festival in 2012.

Less than two weeks before Russia's only LGBT film festival was set to begin, government officials have cancelled the program, reports ThinkProgress.

Citing a "difficult economic situation," the Kremlin's "culture committee" rescinded funding from Moscow Premiere, a film festival that, for the past 12 years, has hosted free screenings of films addressing LGBT issues in Russia and abroad.

Moscow Premiere organizers were notified of the abrupt change in plans on Tuesday, just eight days before the festival's scheduled launch on September 2. That letter from Kremlin officials claimed the cancellation was necessary because "the culture department of Moscow has to limit the use of budgetary resources in 2015," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

However, the funds earmarked for Moscow Premiere have reportedly been shifted to a different, government-approved festival, organized by a Moscow city councilor who is a member of the nation's ruling United Russia party. The new event, titled the Youth Festival of Life-Affirming Film, will reportedly feature an entirely distinct program, Moscow Premiere organizer and film critic Vyacheslav Shmyrov told a local paper.

"We cannot affiliate to the new festival -- not least in terms of our self-esteem," Shmyrov told newspaper Noviye Izvestia.

"Moscow Premiere is primarily a social festival and a charity project that exists for those people, especially the older generation, who can not afford to go to the movies," Shmyrov added. "It is mainly a social mission." Shmyrov does not believe he will have time to salvage any of the films that had been scheduled to screen at Moscow Premiere.

The festival's cancellation is unfortunately par for the course in a nation that is increasingly hostile to LGBT visibility, amplified by the 2013 passage of a nationwide ban on so-called "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," which criminalizes any positive depiction of LGBT identities or issues in spaces that could be visible to minors.

Last year, the International Queer Culture Festival, known as QueerFest, took place in St. Petersburg, despite ominous threats from public officials and reports of physical harassment of attendees. In 2013, St. Petersburg's Side by Side Film Festival faced bomb threats on its opening night, but ultimately carried on, screening Russian and U.S. films, including the Oscar-winning Milk, about LGBT trailblazer Harvey Milk. Side By Side Film Festival had been cancelled in 2008, with organizers given notice of the cancellation just hours before the festival was scheduled to open, but took place in 2012 and had scheduled events earlier this spring.

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