A new short film offers a view into a world that is rarely seen in the West, let alone in Russia: the life of an isolated teenager struggling with gender identity.
The film, "PUT[IN]LOVE" -- which can be pronounced either "Putin Love" or "Put In Love" -- follows a day in the life of Zhenya, who is shunned and at times even bullied by peers.
The film, shot in the Czech capital with Russian-speaking actors and an international crew, is debuting online in what its producers call a Valentine's Day gesture for Russia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The director, Greek-born Eirini Karamanoli, adapted the script for her Prague-based film company, Pantheon Pictures, from a story written by her sister.
Though the story was years old, Karamanoli said its themes of identity and discrimination resonated strongly with the past year's systematic slashing of LGBT rights in Russia.
"We can see that, in Russia, violence in the name of God or social principles happens every day more and more and more toward these people," Karamanoli says. "I decided that this is the perfect time to send a message to LGBT people in Russia and let them know that they're not alone, that we're here and we can see what's happening them. And we're making this film so that other people can understand that LGBT rights are human rights."
"PUT[IN]LOVE," which runs less than 10 minutes
, is one of a growing number of "message" shorts that filmmakers have made to support LGBT rights and other hot-button issues worldwide.
One such film, "Oppressed Majority" by French director Eleonore Pourriat -- who envisions a world in which women, not men, hold authority in privilege -- has received more than 5 million views on YouTube
since it was posted February 5.
Lindsay Taylor, the film's American production manager and casting director, says "PUT[IN]LOVE" is unique for specifically addressing issues of gender identity -- something that she admits made some of her Russian-speaking actors uneasy.
"I can say that there was some nervousness, even on the part of people who got cast and have done this project," Taylor says. "There was a lot of pretty amazing support for the project as well, but you could tell that people were interested about where it was going, and how much their names were going to be all over things. I think that what they're doing is really rather brave."
The movie launch comes midway through the Sochi Winter Olympics, which has been targeted by a number of international campaigns supporting Russian LGBTs and condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin's systematic rollback of rights for sexual minorities.
One of the campaigns, Principle 6 -- which emphasizes the Olympics' own antidiscrimination charter -- is helping to promote "PUT[IN]LOVE" using the social-media networks of its two founding rights groups, All Out and Athlete Ally.
Some of the actors involved in the film say "PUT[IN]LOVE" has affected their perception of minority rights in their home country.
Others, like Gabriel Cohen -- a 25-year-old student from the Kazakh city of Karaganda -- say he has no personal bias against LGBT people but has come to dislike the politicization of the issue in Russia and elsewhere.
"I guess you could say that my own views on this are 'incorrect,'" Cohen says. "If I like a person, then it's all the same to me who he is -- whether he's LGBT or not; I don't care. The main thing for me is that he's a good person. But regarding larger issues like LGBT activism and Putin's views on that, it's not so important for me."