The Sochi Winter Olympics was an ugly spectacle of shoulder shrugging and hand wringing, as the IOC and western media tried to pretend Russia never passed its “anti-gay propaganda law.” Russian military adventurism in Ukraine should make the 2018 World Cup an even more awkward affair. However, in FIFA’s defense, the caviar and swag were surely tremendous, so what matters a small trifle like human rights?
Yet thanks to Elena Klimova and her “Children 404” online forum and support network, the kids Putin, the IOC, and FIFA wishes would simply disappear have a venue to express themselves. Askold Kurov & Pavel Loparev document Klimova’s work and the disenfranchised kids served by her efforts in Children 404 (trailer here), which screens tomorrow in New York as part of the Eye on World Issues film series.
Essentially, Klimova inherited the 404 name inspired by internet error messages from a sympathetic media report on LGBT teens suffering from a drastic escalation of harassment following passage of Putin’s “propaganda” ban. While The Guardian might parse the language of the bill and decide it isn’t so bad after all, teens like Pasha paint a very different picture. As he unequivocally testifies, his peers made it very clear—if he embraced his sexuality to any extent, they would consider it illegal and subject to schoolyard punishment. When reporting their threats to school administrators, he was essentially told it was his fault for being so prejudiced against homophobes.
404 is often a jarring film, but it operates almost exclusively on the micro level, focusing solely on the bullied kids and never offering any macro analysis. Rarely do the filmmakers even confront the abuse abetting teachers and counselors, let alone the government officials who passed and enforce the law—something that is admittedly much easier to say than do. Nevertheless, it is a timely and defiant film that fully captures the casual homophobia (and Communist nostalgia) that Putin shamelessly panders to. They also caught some extraordinarily telling moments, such as Pasha’s subversive visit to the Lenin museum (which certainly appears to be promoting President-for-Life Putin).