The controversy over Russia's anti-gay laws, which dominated headlines leading up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, essentially disappeared from the public eye once the Games began in February. Now, eight months later, the documentary To Russia With Love revisits the story through the eyes of athletes and local activists.
Premiering Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 8/7c on premium network Epix — the film chronicles the events before, during and after the Sochi Games in relation to the 2013 Russian law that prohibits "propaganda" toward minors regarding "non-traditional sexual relationships." Openly gay figure skater Johnny Weir is the film's star attraction. Two months before the Olympics, he found himself on thin ice with gay activists following his casual dismissal of those protesting against holding the Games in Russia. "I'm not a rainbow-flag waver," he admits in the film. His position evolved while working as a skating analyst for NBC Sports in Sochi, where won praise for his sharp commentary and many flamboyant outfits.
Ultimately the Sochi Games opened and closed with virtually no incidents related to the law — protests received scant media attention, and none of the openly gay athletes participating made any notable public comments or demonstrations. While the International Olympic Committee and the Russian government may been relieved, gay activists were disappointed at the missed opportunity. "I wasn't surprised at all that while the Olympics were going on, not one gay athlete or one athletic supporter did anything," Weir says in the film. "And that's what so many people were waiting for in the gay community. And nobody got it. There was no payoff. The closest thing was me wearing a stupid pink blazer — Chanel, but still."
Much more powerful is the film's exploration of how the law is affecting people in Russia. The Russian Open Games, an LGBT-sponsored athletic festival staged after the Olympics, were aggressively obstructed by the police and government. And most poignantly, a 17-year-old Sochi resident named Vlad opens up about the violent bullying and harassment he experiences as an openly gay student. Alongside Olympians and icons of sport, he may be the most significant presence in the film.
In this exclusive clip from To Russia With Love, Weir contemplates how he will present himself in Russia with fellow out Olympians Mark Tewksbury (who won gold in the 100-meter butterfly for Canada in 1992), New Zealand short track speed skater Blake Skjellerup and Anastasia Bucsis, a speed skater from Canada.