The Chechen anti-gay purges were one of the many international crises that came and went from Western media, a spot of suffering that was highlighted and quickly moved on from. There’s no amount of media that could ever truly display the atrocities that occurred and are still occurring across the Russian region, but David France‘s new documentary is a step in the right direction.

The film has a number of different narrative threads but primarily follows the efforts of a Russian organization dedicated to getting LGBT individuals out of Chechnya and helping them claim asylum abroad. There is no happy story here, though — at least not a clean one. It’s impossible to fully grasp the difficulty felt by these people, rejected and abused by the families, communities and country that raised them. For every moment of introspection, there is a moment of fear and pain.

Welcome to Chechnya does not attempt to tell every story; it instead focuses on a small handful through which viewers can grasp the incredible hurdles that even the most fortunate of victims have to overcome. It’s terse, understated, never easy to watch, and yet completely essential all the same.

The film’s biggest innovation, however, is also its greatest misstep. In attempting to protect the identities of their subjects without dehumanizing them, the filmmakers opted to virtually construct artificial faces for a number of the people in the film. It’s a novel and well-intentioned move, but it’s ultimately an unsuccessful one: anyone familiar with the concept of the Uncanny Valley need only watch this film to see a number of faces that fall squarely within it. It’s an unfortunate blight on an otherwise spotless film.

Even with its distracting VFX, Welcome to Chechnya remains a powerful watch all the same. The greatest thing a documentary can do is bring its subject in as close to proximity to the viewer as possible. It may not be pleasant, but it’s needed.

Leave a comment

Read more about: