UPDATE! Scroll to the end of the post for a new review of To Russia With Love from its screening at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
First up: this piece from Northern Stars, which highlights a special pre-premiere screening:
It is rare for us to promote a non-Canadian film, but there are times when we think a screening is so important that we gladly break our own rules. The film To Russia With Love is such a film. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) will pre-screen this groundbreaking new documentary film next Wednesday, June 24, in advance of its national television debut on CBC. The Museum will also host a discussion with the film’s director and executive producer [not Johnny, unfortunately, since he’s a little busy skating all over Asia right now].
Directed by Noam Gonick and produced by Sundance Productions, the film explores the impact of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law as the world converged on Sochi for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The storyline follows activists and athletes trying to choose, amid the ensuing media frenzy, between staying silent or speaking out.
Narrated by Golden Globe and Emmy award winner Jane Lynch, To Russia with Love follows the experiences of outspoken figure skater and commentator Johnny Weir as well as athletes like diver Greg Louganis, speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, gold medal hockey goalie Charlene Labonte, the Calgary Flames’ Brian Burke and many others.
And also a fabulous interview with TRWL director Noam Gonick, who has some wonderful things to say about working with Johnny:
Not All Fun and Games:
Local filmmaker went underground in Vladimir Putin’s intolerant Russia to profile LGBT athletes during 2014’s Sochi Olympics
Winnipeg Free Press: During the lead-up to Sochi, Johnny Weir was a flashpoint for the controversy. In this film, he is an executive producer in addition to being a natural star. What can you say about the roles he played in both capacities?
Noam Gonick: As a subject, he was totally fearless and willing to put himself on the record as representing this generation that is scared of activists and didn’t really understand the steps that were taken to get the gay community where it is today, vis-a-vis activism. But he wasn’t afraid to go out there and say: ‘I’m just me and I’m only looking out for No. 1.’ He was completely fearless and he gave me incredible material to work with. He showed all his facets and was very unguarded.
FP: He’s pretty hilarious, on top of everything else. (Early in the film, Weir describes himself as being gay from birth: “I came out of my mother with jazz hands.”)
NG: There were so many incredible moments that ended up on the cutting-room floor because, at the end of the day, it’s a human-rights documentary and it has to be serious and have a certain amount of gravitas. But every time we filmed with him, I was just doubled over laughing.
What you see in the film? He went way further than that. He’s just a genius to work with.
Please check out both articles for more. Well worth the read!
After Wednesday night’s screening at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Winnipeg Free Press posted an excellent review, including praise for Johnny:
Athletes and Activists:
Local filmmaker takes balanced look at Sochi’s gay Games controversy
If a documentary can be said to have a “star,” the star of Noam Gonick’s ‘To Russia with Love’ is American figure skater Johnny Weir.
A U.S. national champion, Weir is poetry on ice. He knows how to make a spectacle off the ice too, and in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, he provided plenty as the designated figure-skating commentator for NBC.
Weir also became a central figure in the debate over whether the U.S. should have boycotted the Games to protest Russia’s backward laws prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.
There was a time when Weir tried to keep his sexual orientation private. But as Gonick’s camera catches up with him, Weir is up-front. “I’m as gay as they come,” he says. “I’m Elton John’s fanny pack.”
But he is also an athlete and a Russophile. He believed that by being himself and going to Russia, he was making his own statement on sexuality by example. Ironically, that drew him into harsh words with the activists of Queer Nation, who protested his participation in the Games.
Gonick expands on this conflict, looking at the subtext of the Sochi Olympics as a squaring off between older gay activists and younger athletes striving to compete but also do the right thing by their LGBT comrades in Russia. …
The subject matter can be grim, but Weir provides a certain lightness to the proceedings, even as he comes to understand the dangers faced by activists, particularly in a moving face-to-face meeting with [17-year-old Sochi gay activist] Vlad.
Read the full review here.