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Film shot in Ukraine takes aim at Russian homophobia

Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines of the war with Russia
Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines of the war with Russia Copyright Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Copyright Nariman El-Mofty/AP
By Tim Gallagher with AFP
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The first film highlighted homophobia in sport but now directors are taking aim at Putin's homophobia, as their Ukrainian cast and crew take up arms.

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A sequel to popular film ‘The Spangled Shrimps’, shot in Ukraine, is set to be released in theatres, even as many of its cast and crew join the embattled nation’s frontlines.

‘The Revenge of the Glitter Shrimps,’ is set in Russia but was largely filmed in neighbouring Ukraine and takes aim at Russian homophobia.

The comedy, which will be released in theatres on April 13, follows a similar formula to its predecessor which told the true story of a gay water polo team based in Paris.

The 2019 film attracted audiences of nearly 600,000, a large number for what is often considered a niche film.

The aim of the directors, Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo, was to lift the taboo of homosexuality in sport and now they’re turning to even more political topics of state-sponsored homophobia and hate crimes.

Little did they imagine the turn of events which has badly affected their cast and crew, a reported 80% of which were Ukrainian.

"Shooting in Russia was impossible because of the law that prohibits LGBT propaganda," says Govare.

"Filming two men kissing in the street would have landed us all in jail."

Ukraine was chosen for its scenic similarity to Russia, and the filming facilities for Western teams. No one dared imagine a Russian invasion.

Today, an actress from the film is sheltering with her children in the Kharkiv metro and crew members have taken up arms.

Some of the team have fled to France, where they are calling for solidarity in the profession to find them work.

Conversion therapy, ‘gay hunters,’ and Putin

For the directors, beyond homophobia, ‘The Spangled Shrimps’ is a hymn to freedom in general, and the link to the current situation in Ukraine is obvious.

"The film tells how Putin oppresses the LGBT community,” notes Le Gallo, who says he got used to singing "Slava Ukraïni" (glory to Ukraine) at the preview screenings in France.

"Today, Putin oppresses the whole world, so that particularly resonates".

The film paints an unequivocal portrait of the effects of Putin’s policies, in a country where violence against homosexuals is frequent.

It is in this universe that the merry gang of “Shiny Shrimps” arrives, joined by a new character, Sélim (Bilal El Atreby), a young heterosexual steeped in prejudice. The rainbow water polo team, which was going to the Gay Games in Tokyo, misses its match and finds itself stuck on hostile ground.

While some hole up in hotels, others venture outside. But in Russia, finding a gay club to party at or a one-night stand on a dating app can turn into a nightmare.

The film sees the characters fleeing fearsome "gay hunters", who beat up homosexuals on street corners and discover the hell of conversion therapy.

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"We had fun putting homosexuals in the country of homophobes,” says Le Gallo, but the film, between adventure comedy and musical comedy, intends to strike a wider target.

Conversion therapies were not banned in France until January 2022 and remain legal in the UK, meanwhile the homophobic policies of countries like Hungary are well documented.

"Wanting to brainwash people who want to live their lives and do absolutely no harm to anyone,” says Govare.

“It's a universal subject.”

The two directors have a dream of seeing their film screened in Ukraine when the conflict is over, as planned before the war.

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“The sooner the better,” they say.

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