The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, put a spotlight on that country's
new anti-gay law, which criminalizes "gay propaganda." Opponents of the
law argue that the definition of gay propaganda is too broad and that
the law essentially criminalizes just being gay. Some might say it's not
as bad as the laws in places like Uganda in Africa. This documentary
for example doesn't document any deaths unlike Call Me Kuchu,
which shows how a person can be killed due to his or her sexuality, but
the threats to LGBT people in Russia are very serious, and this movie
captures that, piggybacking off Hunted, the documentary by Britain's Channel 4.
Filmmaker Michael Lucas produces this movie in the same manner as his previous and first documentary Undressing Israel (2013). Lucas basically interviews gay people who live in Russia or who are in the United States having emigrated from Russia. He interviews them about what it's like to be gay in the former Soviet Union, particularly in the wake of this anti-gay propaganda law. It's a series of talking heads mostly.
In terms of tone, Campaign of Hate is the polar opposite of Undressing Israel. Gay people are happy in Israel. They can be open about their sexuality. Yet, this is absolutely not the case in Russia. Whereas his previous doc is sunny and warm, Campaign of Hate is cold and depressing. Its serious subject matter makes Campaign of Hate a more important film. The goal is different. Undressing Israel was about pulling back the curtain and showing outsiders how great Israel is. It was itself propaganda. Campaign of Hate is itself fighting propaganda. Lucas' hope would be to change Russia whereas he wasn't trying to change Israel.
The most incredible interview is with Vitaly Milonov, the politician who supports the anti-gay law. It's a wonder if Milonov knew Lucas' history. Despite Lucas being one of the most successful, gay porn producers, Milonov, a clear homophobe, sat down and talked to him, telling Lucas that homosexuality is a disease, a virus for morality.
Another great interview is with Anton Krasovsky, the Russian journalist who came out as gay on live television and was subsequently fired for it. Another great interview, even though it's brief, is a conversation Lucas has with the son of two lesbians who worries he might lose his family due to this propaganda law, which has people equating homosexuals to pedophiles. Russia is basically trying to keep gay people away from children.
It's good that Lucas has made this movie, which has given voice to so many gay people in Russia who are in need or in trouble and danger for no reason. It's also good that this light has been shined on the Putin government. It's good as a series of testimonies, but, as a complete documentary, it's rather lacking.
Lucas doesn't introduce himself. Often, narrators or interviewers don't, but, in that case they won't show themselves on camera as much. It got to a point where Michael Moore stopped introducing himself, but unless you watch a lot of gay porn, you might not get the irony of Lucas' interview with Milonov or the wonder and curiosity of it.
It was the Winter Olympics being in Sochi that prompted a lot of the attention on Russia, but this documentary makes no mention of the games. Aside from one interview who is wearing a shirt with the girl group on it, Lucas also makes no mention of Pussy Riot, the girl group who has done more to spotlight the anti-gay policies in Russia than any one else.
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 18 mins.