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Proposed Tchaikovsky Film's Director Slams Debate Over Composer's Sexual Orientation

Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally.
You'd think Russia would welcome plans to produce the country's first major film about Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

But Kirill Serebrennikov, a prominent Russian filmmaker, has said he's given up securing funding in Russia and denounced a "vulgar" public debate about whether or not the celebrated Russian composer was gay.

"Everyone is very interested in this," he wrote in an angry overnight post on Facebook on September 18-19. "Everyone is pondering what we love him for, 'for this or not for this.' Vulgarity, vulgarity, philistine vulgarity...."

Serebrennikov, who is also the artistic director of Moscow's Gogol Theater, announced his plan to shoot the biopic in August 2012.

But finding sponsors turned out to be more difficult than expected, largely due to what the filmmaker has described as concerns among Russian officials that the composer is widely believed to have been homosexual.

Antigay feelings appear to be on the rise in the country, a trend that activists blame on a new law banning the propagation "of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors.

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Since President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June, speculation has been rife that the film could be fined under the legislation by addressing the composer's sexual orientation.

'What's The Big Deal?'

In an attempt to quash the controversy, Serebrennikov and his co-screenwriter, Yury Arabov, have questioned Tchaikovsky's homosexuality and stressed that their biopic would not focus on his sexual orientation. Arabov has also said that the script was revised to depict the composer as a man "stuck with the opinion that he supposedly loves men."

The debate has nonetheless continued to rage, with high-ranking officials also taking part.

Kirill Serebrennikov
Kirill Serebrennikov
Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said this week there was "no evidence" that Tchaikovsky was gay, adding that "the film must be about Tchaikovsky's genius and not about rumors surrounding his biography."

Putin appeared to disagree earlier this month, when he mentioned Tchaikovsky's homosexuality in an attempt to downplay international concerns over Russia's antigay laws.

"They say Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was homosexual. This is not what we love him for, but he was a great musician. We all love his music," Putin said. "What's the big deal? Don't make a mountain out of a molehill. There is nothing terrible or horrible going on in our country."

Two months ago, the Culture Ministry finally agreed to grant the film 30 million rubles ($930,000) in subsidies.

Serebrennikov, who says this sum represents just over 10 percent of the film's budget, had hoped for additional financing from Russia's state-run Cinema Fund. But the filmmaker announced on Facebook that the fund had turned him down because "they 'did not see any audience potential.'"

He said he would protest by returning the Culture Ministry's money. "We will look for funds for the film about our top national composer, about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, outside our country," he wrote. "Not in Russia...."

Serebrennikov ends his post by drawing a parallel between the film's hard luck in Russia and the final years of Tchaikovsky's life, which he chose to spend in Europe and the United States due to Russian hostility over his rumored homosexuality.

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