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No Russian Funds for Tchaikovsky Biopic Amid Gay Denial – Director

Пётр Чайковский (1840-1893)
A Russian filmmaker has said he would seek foreign funding for a biopic of the composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, widely believed to have been a homosexual, amid ongoing controversy about Russia’s recently adopted anti-gay law.

Update: On Friday, Sept. 20, the film’s producer said the Cinema Fund’s trustee council was to issue a new decision next week, which could affect the film's prospects for funding.

MOSCOW, September 19 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian filmmaker said Thursday that he was seeking foreign funding for a biopic of the composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, widely believed to have been a homosexual, amid ongoing controversy about Russia’s recently adopted anti-gay law.

Film director Kirill Serebrennikov said that the state-run Cinema Fund that finances movie projects “has not given money” for the film, which is expected to cost 240 million rubles ($7.6 million) and is scheduled for release in 2015, when Russia will mark the 175th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

“They said that they don’t see ‘potential viewership,’” the director and artistic director of Moscow’s Gogol Theater said in a Facebook post early Thursday.

A Cinema Fund official told RIA Novosti that the film simply did not get enough votes from its experts who last week approved a shortlist of movies to receive state funding.

Serebrennikov added that Russia’s Culture Ministry had allocated “a mere” 30 million rubles ($950,000) in June, and that he and the film’s producer would return the money “to our state, which thirsts for entertainment and profitable blockbusters.”

“We will look for money for a film about our main national composer … outside our motherland,” Serebrennikov said, adding that Russians seem to be more interested in discussing Tchaikovsky’s sexual proclivities than in facilitating the release of a film about him.

“Everybody’s speculating about what we love him for,” he said, in an apparent reference to a recent remark made by President Vladimir Putin about the composer. “[It's all] vulgarity, vulgarity, philistine vulgarity.”

Earlier this month, Putin mentioned Tchaikovsky in an interview with The Associated Press when commenting on the controversial and internationally condemned law banning the promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relations to minors that he signed off on in June.

“They say Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky was a homosexual, although that’s not what we love him for,” Putin said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on the official Kremlin website. “But he was a great musician, and we all love his music.”

The biopic’s scriptwriter and Russia’s culture minister reportedly denied the composer’s homosexuality altogether.

"It's really not a fact that Tchaikovsky was gay," veteran scriptwriter Yury Arabov was cited as saying in an interview on August 20 with the Izvestia daily. "The script of 'Tchaikovsky' has been through five versions, and there is no homosexuality in the last one, it's totally not about that.

"In my script, Tchaikovsky is weighed down by rumors [about his homosexuality] and is very depressed by them," Arabov was quoted as saying.

Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky reportedly agreed with the screenwriter.

“Arabov is right, by the way: There is no proof that Tchaikovsky was gay,” he told Russian media on Wednesday, adding that the upcoming film should be “about Tchaikovsky’s genius, not about the rumors concerning his life.”

A Russian composer who has authored two books on Tchaikovsky and helped publish previously unreleased letters said that the composer discussed his homosexuality in his correspondence, and that generations of Russian and Soviet musicologists had edited the references out of publications.

Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality is “as clear as the light of day,” Valery Sokolov told RIA Novosti.

“Under the Soviets, all of that was hushed up,” he said. “When everything was allowed [after the Soviet collapse], it seemed to many that there was nothing else interesting [about Tchaikovsky].”

Sokolov claimed that the refusal to fund the movie was prompted by Serebrennikov’s reputation for staging controversial performances. If directed by Serebrennikov, the film will include Tchaikovsky’s “homosexual adventures,” he said.

“I am scared in advance,” he added.

Serebrennikov said in July that Russian investigators had probed alleged scenes of pedophilia and violence involving children in his staging of “The Pillowman,” a play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

In March, Moscow police investigated another production by Serebrennikov based on a novel by Zakhar Prilepin, a former member of the now-banned National Bolshevik Party. The novel tells the story of a young Russian radical who participates in anti-Kremlin rallies despite a violent police crackdown.

Western biographers and the authoritative Grove Concise Dictionary of Music have long regarded Tchaikovsky's alleged homosexuality as fact, and recent Russian-language books about the composer have tended to agree.

Sokolov's 1995 edition of Tchaikovsky’s letters reveals the composer sharing intimate details about his sexual encounters with men, including servants, and about the failure of his 1877 marriage to a former student. In the letters, he also expresses concern that his homosexuality may harm the reputation of the Moscow Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular Russian composers worldwide, and his ballet “The Nutcracker” is a much-loved staple on theater stages in the US and in Europe around Christmas time.

In Russia, a town, countless streets, a landmark concert hall in central Moscow and an internationally renowned annual competition of young musicians have been named after him.

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