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"Happiness is when you are not persecuted". Interview with the creator of the film "Incurable me" about conversion therapy, emigration and how a victim of violence can put himself back together again

Its contributors talk about how they went through the horrors of "conversion therapy". This is the name given to anti-scientific practices designed to "correct" a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The film's creator Nikita Loik explained how and why the film was made. Nikita shared his own story of experiencing trauma and gave some important advice for those still at risk.

Nikita Loik

How was the idea for the film born? Why did you choose conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy is not an abstract topic for me, because at the age of 16 I experienced something similar myself. Unlike most people who experience such treatment, it was not the initiative of my parents or relatives. But, strangely enough, by a girl I had a crush on. She decided to take me to a psychologist, who was also her mum and I agreed, because it didn't bother me that I was gay, even though I lived in Siberia. I was more confused about the world's attitude towards me. I thought a psychologist could solve all that.

I was taken to a psychiatric clinic, the people of my town call it "Lugovaya". I spent an hour talking about myself.

The doctor looked at me silently, with a stoney face  and listened to me. Then she gave me some questionnaires to fill out, where I had to answer strange questions about suicidal thoughts and the desire to attack other people.

Then I began to suspect that something was wrong.

She led me down the corridor of the asylum, where there were patients tied to beds. I was taken, apparently, to a sex therapist. He was a comic grandfather figure who took out an encyclopaedia, opened it to the letter "P", found an article about pederasty, read something there, then asked me to undress. He examined my armpits and groin area. Then he said: "That's strange. Your body has developed as it should. Muscles and hair are normal. I don't know why you are  gay." He ended up prescribing me... injections.

Nikita in childhood

As it turned out, it was testosterone - wildly painful injections with an oil base. I kept them a secret from my parents for a while. Then I decided to write to Igor Semyonovich Kon. He was a sexologist, psychologist, author of the book "Love of Heavenly Colour". And he saved me, because he wrote: "Run! Urgently!" My correspondence with him helped me to accept myself and not listen to bullshit. But now I'm very hairy: back, chest - my brother and father don't have that. And then there's the beard, the low voice. Thanks to the testosterone doses I got as a teenager.

Why is there an "18+" bar at the beginning of the film? Is it a tribute to Russian law or just a warning about heavy content? In general, is it worth respecting repressive laws and to what extent?

The warning is only due to the fact that people will be traumatised and shocked by many of the stories.

We were even thinking of a more detailed warning that says, "if you have difficulty accepting violence, are mentally unstable and especially if you are under 18, please don't watch this film."

We are still thinking of doing that on YouTube. Because it's really hard to watch. In general, it's a terrible thing, and it shouldn't happen to people. You can't treat something that's not a disease.

Still from the film Uncurable me

Was it easy to assemble the contributors for the film? Did you have to liberate them, or did they willingly make contact?

Strangely enough, it wasn't difficult to find the contributors.

I expected difficulties, I was afraid that none of them would agree to show their faces. In the end, I found them all quickly through Instagram. Apparently, people had built up so much pain that they were ready to talk about it.

And openly, without notes, without blurring their faces or changing their voices.

The film contains a lot of location shots from Dagestan, Iran, and Russian regions. As far as I understand, the film crew did not go there. How did you manage to get these shots?

There is a lot of location shooting in the film because I have been working in this genre for a long time. I have shots of airports, aeroplanes, St Petersburg, Dagestan, mountains, roads and so on in my archive. So Makhachkala, for example, was filmed by me. Copters flying over Russian monasteries - all of this was once filmed by me. Of course, there are places we could not visit - Iran, for example. We took such shots from open sources, crediting the author throughout.

If you simplify the film's plot, it's people who spend an hour explaining how they were tortured. But what is the overarching goal of your film? Why did you choose this story and why did you show it this way?

Of course, I was tempted to invite experts: sexologists, psychologists. They could explain in detail why all this is wrong and that there is no need to cure orientation or gender identity. But for me, this is such a closed and non-discussable issue that I considered it unnecessary and just gave the contributors the opportunity to share their pain. So the whole experience, all the consequences  were personal accounts. Basically, it's a confessional film.  People want to talk and hear about it. Therefore, the need for experts fell away by itself at the production stage. Conversion therapy is an absolute evil. The contributors illustrate this idea on their own.

Still from the film Uncurable me

What fate awaits the film? Just to put it on YouTube? Or is it supposed to be distributed at festivals, to develop the theme?

The film has already been screened in Europe and countries around the world. The premieres have already taken place or are about to take place in Kishinev, Tallinn, Vilnius, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Lisbon, Paris, London, New York, Indianapolis, Tbilisi. We've applied to a couple of dozen festivals and there will be an online premiere for a wider audience.

I would like as many people as possible to see the film. So that they realise that conversion therapy is not normal. That one should always and without delay reject it.

Even for those who have not experienced torture, listening to the stories of the contributors is hard. Could the film traumatise those who have faced this kind of therapy and will watch your film? Have these risks been assessed?

I don't think that victims of, for example, sexual violence will specifically seek out premieres of films about it and feel traumatised themselves. Unless they feel the need to see it for some purpose. A film openly states its subject: it has a trailer, a poster, a description. Clearly, if people aren't emotionally capable of dealing with this situation, they shouldn't watch this film. After all, if someone is unable to tolerate the horror genre, they are unlikely to casually turn on a film like this. So, it's the viewer's choice. We have taken a subject about which it is impossible to make an easy film.

Still from the film Uncurable me

Imagine that the film caused a sensation and the topic of conversion therapy started to be discussed by politicians. Is the reverse possible, when some politicians decide that LGBTQ people can be treated and start to introduce these practices officially?

I can't be responsible for people with a mediaeval mentality who don't understand elementary things. Same-sex marriage is legal in 35 countries around the world, and in most countries orientation is not something criminal. In the 90s there was the last wave of decriminalisation of homosexuality, which affected Russia as well.

I don't take any responsibility for those people who want to take us back to the dark ages. I don't think they need to be encouraged. They are perfectly fine doing self destructive things without me and without our film.

Anyway, the film is done. Was this a one-off project, or are there already plans for the future? If so, what will be the theme for the next film?

This is not a one-off project. I've always been interested in the theme of defending the rights of LGBT people. I'm going to continue with it. It could be women's rights, children's rights, human rights in general. There are several topics in the pipeline, but there is no point in talking about them in advance. Of course, making the cycle only about conversion therapy would also be wrong. Although a number of people have already written to me to share their stories and the film has not yet been released on YouTube. But I don't see the point of doing a sequel yet. There are still a lot of important topics to cover.

Still from the film Uncurable me

Most of your contributors are now in the Netherlands. Is that by chance, or was that the author's intention as well?

Not all of them. We have heroes who don't share where they are now. There's a guy in Norway, there's a guy in Kazakhstan (he's still on his way to Europe). But the popularity of the Netherlands is easy to explain. That country has an amazing policy of supporting LGBT refugees. By the way, I made a documentary film about political asylum in the Netherlands. I won't say it was easy, but much easier than in other countries. True, the film came out a year ago, during this time the requirements for refugees have become stricter, especially for Russians. Nevertheless, it is still a real possibility worth considering. That is why I know so many people who have moved to the Netherlands.

All the characters in the film became emigrants. Is that the only way out for a queer person in the Russian Federation or Azerbaijan? Did the characters say off-screen that they are homesick and want to return? Or have they left the past behind them?

In my opinion, emigration is the only way now. The answer is radical, but I cannot advise a victim of violence to continue to tolerate this violence and somehow get along with the perpetrator.

My recommendation is to run away! From the abuser's flat, from the city he lives in, from the country. Choose life, not the role of a victim.

If this is happening in the country now, the only way to live a full and safe life is to get away from it.

Still from the film Uncurable me

What helps people facing such "treatment" to heal? Is there any cumulative help or advice based on the experiences of the contributors?

Here I can speak mainly for myself. The first and most important thing is getting out of a traumatic situation. That is, one where conversion therapy is being applied to you. Then - to find somewhere else where it is possible at least potentially,  that you won't feel pressurised and then to start a free life.

Our film is called "Incurable me". Alas, there is no pill to cure all these memories.

But there is a daily drug. We know it by the names "Love", "Freedom", "Friends".  Living in a free country, you are at least one step closer to the realisation that the muscles tensed during the trauma will slowly begin to relax.

A quiet life in which you are just a human being is healing. As one of our heroes says, "Happiness is when you're not being persecuted." I don't think there's a more accurate or simple answer.

Source: ParniPlus