Children 404 is an online support forum for Russian LGBT teens created in reaction to Putin’s notorious “gay propaganda” law. Kids who access the forum can connect with their peers and a private area where teens can get help from professional counselors who donate their time.
This intensely moving documentary focuses on two people: Elena Klimova, the site’s creator; and Pasha, an openly gay teen who’s moving to Toronto to study journalism.
The two talk about their hopes and wishes for a better future, where Putin-fueled homophobia will be as unimaginable as segregation and for a family, kids, a house, just having a normal life, something that would never be possible in today’s Russia. They never asked to be activists, but what choice do they have? As Elena points out in one scene, even hiding won’t ensure safety, and you’d constantly be looking over your shoulder anyway.
Interspersed between the scenes with Elena and Pasha are several dozen short testimonies from Children 404 teens—anonymous, of course: we just hear their voices, and see shaky homemade footage of their schools or neighbourhoods. They talk about getting bullied, beat up, having to hide relationships from classmates, growing up believing they’re sick or abnormal or sinners. Hearing those voices drives home what a difference the site makes, every day, for hundreds of teens.
Despite its subject, Children 404 is a surprisingly positive film as it highlights some brave souls who are truly making a difference, changing hearts and minds. Not just queer ones, either. In an April screening of the movie in Moscow, the audience successfully resisted protesters’ and police’s attempts to shut the event down. To the straight audience members, this was a wake-up call that the hate is very real, and it does affect them too.
In the post-film Q&A, director Askold Kurov told us of more happy endings. Pasha is now in Toronto, and doing well in his studies. There’s been an uptick in refugee claims from Russia by GLBT people, but it looks like they’ve all been accepted. And best of all, the site’s legal troubles are over: the charge of containing homosexual propaganda that was laid against it, has been dismissed. They’ll keep on helping queer teens for a while to come.
Hope springs eternal. Russia will need a lot of it, but it looks like some people are moving it in the right direction.
Children 404. Directed by Pavel Loparev & Askold Kurov. No further screenings at the 2014 Vancouver Queer Film Festival.
Nicolas Demers is a web developer and blogger living in Vancouver’s West End. In his spare time he enjoys science-fiction, photography, and is actively involved with the Vancouver Gay Volleyball Association.