HBO Documentary Reveals Russia’s Vigilante War On Gays

He looks like a young boy, no older than 18 years old. Standing naked in a bathroom, he’s surrounded by a group of grown men and forced into the tub. They are armed with a large plastic penis and a bottle filled with urine. “Have some piss,” says one of the men, emptying the bottle over the boy’s body and head. In Russia, attacks like these are common among the only nation that spans across two continents, and perhaps the only place where vigilante groups hunt gay people for sport.

Watch the trailer for HUNTED: The War Against Gays in Russia 

HUNTED: The War Against Gays in Russia is an HBO documentary to premiere on Oct. 6—directed by Ben Steele and narrated by Matt Bomer—that begins with a behind the scenes look into a number of violently homophobic organizations. Of them, is Occupy Pedophilia, Russia’s largest anti-gay vigilante association that is active in over 30 cities. “Hunting season is open… and we are the hunted,” says Dima, a gay man who was blinded in one eye after being attacked.

To “bait” their prey, Occupy Pedophilia uses social media to arrange meet ups for sex. “I’ve got a guy from Severodvinsk who wants to make friends,” says a young member of the group named Pavel. “We’ll destroy his life, as usual,” replies Katya, the leader of the Saint Petersburg branch of the organization. Once a subject is captured he is emotionally and physically humiliated, which is filmed and posted online for tens of thousands of viewers. While nearly all of these videos showcase the torment of gay men, the group claims—and may actually even believe—that they’re simply catching pedophiles. This is most likely a result of how the terms “pedophile” and “homosexual” are often used interchangeably throughout the country, according to the film. “Everybody seems to think that Occupy Pedophilia is a homophobic organization,” Katya says. “Although of the 30 pedophiles I have personally caught, 28 were gay. It doesn’t mean that we’re fighting gays.”

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Screen grab from HUNTED: The War Against Gays in Russia trailer

The film is objectively delivered with a voice-over narration, exploring everything from Occupy Pedophilia’s hunts or “safaris,” as they call it, to the loopholes in Russian law that allows such horrific treatment of gays. Apparently, the Russian government passed a “loosely-worded” propaganda law last summer, outlawing all neutral and positive support of so-called “non-traditional relationships.” This silences the victims of the crimes and forces them into hiding. The documentary also features interviews with Russian priests, citizens and other figures who give their personal insight on the subject. Father Serei, a respected priest who leads a growing congregation, addresses homosexuality: “I just consider them spiritually and morally ill. With all these gay parades, gay clubs and publications, they’ve started to plant the idea in young people’s minds that all this is normal.”

In the latter part of the film, Steele examines the sparse resistance against Russia’s moral injustice. He captures arrests during peaceful protests, the efforts to rid the country of homosexual teachers, the adverse support from the police and more, in addition to interviews with gays who struggle to maintain self-respect among the increasingly pervasive society. “In a country where the government and President Vladimir Putin have embraced an anti-gay stance, the feeling is that ‘the anti-gay forces are gaining momentum—and no one knows just how far the authorities will go,'” reads its press release. 

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© Louis Carraz

Ben Steele is a British documentarian who has directed and produced an eclectic mix of films throughout the past 10 years. Some of his most acclaimed single documentaries include The Trouble with Working Women, a BBC2 investigation on why men still dominate so many top jobs, along with Channel 4’s Remembering Mum, which follows a police investigation into an unsolved murder and the attempts of the victim’s daughter to regain her lost memory. He has filmed in over 25 countries and believes that “big ideas can be expressed on the small screen and still pack a powerful entertaining punch,” according to his site.

Tonight, Oct. 2, Steele will talk about the film on The Daily Show With John Stewart, which will air on Comedy Central at 11 p.m. EST. Don’t miss the official premiere of the documentary on HBO at 9 p.m. on Oct. 6.