Director Blake Mawson on his controversial Russian LGBT horror film, PYOTR495

Blake Mawson film Pyotr495

Blake Mawson is a talented filmmaker creating compelling new work in horror. 

His first film, PYOTR495, busts genre stereotypes and will stay with you long after the final credits. 

We’ve just started working with director Blake Mawson at Border2Border Entertainment and really hope this is the first of many films for him.  When I first watched PYOTR495 at the Toronto Inside Out Film Festival last year, it picked up another award – the RBC Best Emerging Canadian Artist Award.  

Awards are great of course and this latest accolade was simply adding to the collection for PYOTR495, which include the Best Horror Short at Flickers’ Rhode Island Film Festival.  It’s also been nominated for the Iris Prize, the world’s largest short film prize as well as the SITGES Brigadoon Paul Naschy Award. 

For me the film was a nightmare (in the best possible way!) on so many levels.  It really stayed with me and has had me contemplating all the privileges we enjoy in countries with LGBTQ rights and protections.  Especially now, at a time when being queer in places like Russia, Chechnya, Uganda and Jamaica (to name a few) is still life-threatening.
I sat down with Blake Mawson recently to discuss his film and invite you to watch it first to get the full impact and then join our conversation.

CHARLIE DAVID: You’ve created a film that’s scary on so many levels. It excels as a horror film but it’s also a social commentary on the horrors that LGBTQ people have faced throughout history and still in countries around the world including our own. Was there any specific event that inspired you to make this film?

BLAKE MAWSON: Yes. I’d written PYOTR495 in January of 2014 after Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill had just been passed a month earlier, the Sochi Olympics were underway, and the media was bombarded with images of targeted abductions and attacks against LGBTQ people. I wanted to respond with a scenario that I felt could have empowered someone in these seemingly hopeless scenarios, and take that anger and frustration I was feeling and have it manifest on screen in an explosive way. Obviously, the problem didn’t stop after the foreign press left either. We’re now seeing an alarming, growing number of targeted abductions and attacks against LGBTQ people today globally.

Blake Mawson PYOTR495_Stills_6_lighter

From PYOTR495

CHARLIE DAVID: I’ve watched it a few times and I still get chills. The main character Pyrotr is on a dating app and there’s this revelation when he shows up for his date that he’s been lured here. Pyotr is asked if his friends know where he is and he responds no. I think there must be so many of us who have been in similar situations on a date or hook up. It gives you pause right?

BLAKE MAWSON: I think there’s always a risk that you take when you go to meet someone online. Sex is very private for many people, particularly if you are still in the closet and nobody would really know where you’d gone missing to if it was through a random online encounter. Discretion definitely aids Pyotr’s assailants in this particular scenario, as it has in many of the actual attacks which have taken place.

Blake Mawson PYOTR495_Stills_4

From PYOTR495

CHARLIE DAVID: Why was it important for you to create this layered exploration of some of the monsters in society?

BLAKE MAWSON: I suppose with the way things are going in today’s society, nothing’s really more frightening to me than the human race itself. The classic Hollywood boogie-men of film can no longer hold a flame to some of the monsters we have coming into power around the world today. In North America, we’re now faced with having the civil liberties of many of our friends, peers and loved ones revoked. The impending dread of what comes as result of the recent election feels more visceral and present than any horror film I’ve ever seen – the horror of a fractured system for so many has become a reality around the world.

CHARLIE DAVID: As you began sharing the film PYOTR495 at film festivals around the world what kind of reactions were you getting from audiences? Were they aware of the gay propaganda law in Russia?

BLAKE MAWSON: When we made the film, I think we had been naive to assume that many people would already be aware of the attitude towards LGBTQ people in Russia and the violent anti-gay abductions and attacks which the film had been based upon. Surprisingly, that was not the case at all. Many people did not know, but it allowed me to travel to festivals around the globe and talk about LGBTQ rights with an audience who normally may not be presented with, or consider that type of subject matter at genre festival. It allowed us to create discussion and raise awareness in the process of showing the film.

CHARLIE DAVID: Why was it important for the film to not become tragic?

BLAKE MAWSON: I think the LGBTQ community is incredibly resilient and has overcome so much throughout history and is unstoppable in so many ways. I wanted this film to reflect that spirit in an extreme way, an absolute refusal to sit down and just take whatever is thrown at us, and instead stand up and say ‘Actually, if you come for us, then you better watch out. You’re in for a big surprise.’ I believe that if you try to bury or oppress something for long enough, it’s eventually going to surface in ways you never imagined…

Blake Mawson PYOTR495_Stills_3

From PYOTR495

CHARLIE DAVID: How do you think the experience of LGBT dating is different for a person in Russia versus a country with LGBT rights?

BLAKE MAWSON: Dating in most cosmopolitan cities in North America for an LGBTQ person is a pretty privileged situation. In most cases, we don’t even need to think twice about how we present ourselves publicly or who knows about our sexuality, but there are still so many places in the world where it’s heavily frowned upon and/or dangerous to live openly or express affection in any kind of public way, and that includes conservative pockets of North America too. That type of fear exists for people outside of the Western bubble, and there’ll always be work to towards acceptance on a global scale.

CHARLIE DAVID: The film has been so well received at festivals around the world and picked up several awards along the way. Why is it important for the film to be seen and talked about now?

BLAKE MAWSON: With what we’ve seen is happening in Chechnya with the anti-gay purge and concentration camps for gay men, these human rights abuses by Chechen authorities where journalists covering the story are receiving death threats and being forced to flee the country – this is obviously a very clear sign that things are not getting any better and are in fact worsening in many parts of the globe. While I’m not claiming that our short film is solving any of world problems, I do think it is important that we use our voice as artists and as people in any way possible to draw attention to these injustices and continue to raise awareness.

I think if I can use genre-type film to put an audience in the shoes of the people who are experiencing this type of terror and hatred, make them uncomfortable and have them realize that this is actually not so make-believe in the end, that this type of horror is real – then we can begin to open people’s eyes and reach an audience in unexpected ways.

CHARLIE DAVID: It’s easy to become complacent in Canada or the USA or England or Australia when it comes to LGBTQ equality. How would you encourage others to look beyond our own borders to help in the struggle for freedom still being fought in so many places around the world?

BLAKE MAWSON: I would say to use your voice in whatever way you can. Continue to put pressure on your lawmakers and representatives to address these human rights issues directly with the leaders of countries who do not have human rights protections for LGBTQ people, email your Russian Embassy and let them know that you won’t sit quietly while this type of injustice is going on. Join in on local demonstrations and donate to organizations like the Russian LGBT Network and their emergency support program where they are helping to evacuate and provide support for vulnerable, at-risk LGBTQ people from Chechnya currently.

Get in touch with Blake Mawson through his social below. 

Blake Mawson by Eddie O'Keefe

Photo of Blake Mawson by Eddie O’Keefe.

If you enjoyed this interview with Blake Mawson, please consider sharing it!

For more context on the current state of where it’s still unsafe to be LGBTQ, check out the documentary film, Beyond Gay the Politics of Pride

It gives an excellent overview of LGBTQ rights around the world and places where the struggle is still very real.


Balls – avec le réalisateur Nico Stagias

Nico Stagias - Director of Photography

Nico Stagias est le réalisateur du BALLS.

I’m a StripperStudlebrity.  Bump!  Positive YouthI’m a PornstarBalls. Tous des titres de films auxquels Nico Stagias a contribué. Que ce soit en tant que réalisateur, monteur ou cinématographe, il est toujours dans son élément. Alliez ses vastes talents à ceux du tout autant talentueux Charlie David, et vous avez là toute une paire… jeu de mots inclus.


Nico Stagias raconte qu’il a une longue et belle histoire de travail avec Charlie David. Après s’être rencontrés sur le plateau de la série de voyage « Bump! », ils se sont tout de suite liés d’amitié avant de passer quatre saisons à filmer cette émission. « Une série de voyage est définitivement un bon indicateur de compatibilité sur un plateau. Nous aimons tous les deux voyager et découvrir le monde par nous-mêmes. »


« Balls », a été initialement pensé par Patrick Ware, le partenaire de vie de Charlie David, en 2014. Lorsque Charlie David a partagé l’idée avec Nico Stagias, ce dernier a tout de suite était conquis. « Nous travaillons habituellement à deux et partageons toutes les responsabilités (outre la caméra), de la pré- à la post-production. Nous faisons une excellente équipe. Pour ce qui est de « Balls », le père de Charlie est décédé subitement. Sans une once d’hésitation, il a pris le premier avion pour la Saskatchewan et y est resté un mois pour s’assurer que sa famille allait bien. C’est ce que j’adore de Charlie et la raison pour laquelle nous nous entendons si bien. Il a le sens des priorités.»


REGARD Balls ici:





Après la fin de Bump!, Nico Stagias et Charlie David savaient qu’ils souhaitaient continuer à voir le monde à travers leur vision commune. « Notre premier projet ensemble a été «Positive Youth », un documentaire sur les taux accrus d’infection au VIH chez les jeunes d’Amérique du Nord. Depuis, nous avons eu notre juste part de documentaires sur des strip-teaseurs, des beaux gosses et des vedettes du porno. »


Durant des études de langues et de littérature au collège Dawson, Nico Stagias a pris un cours complémentaire sur l’histoire du cinéma et a immédiatement su qu’il voulait faire partie de ce monde. « J’ai eu des tonnes de boulots liés aux films et aux vidéos, de coupeur de négatifs (du temps où les films étaient captés sur celluloïd) jusqu’à monter les nouvelles matinales pour Global Television. Mes premiers contrats de tournage, de montage et de réalisation étaient des collaborations avec le monde de la danse moderne. Il n’y a rien de tel que l’expérience de lier la forme d’art cinétique de la danse à la forme d’art du film. Jusqu’à ce jour, je garde un faible pour les vidéos de danse. »


Quand il s’agit du sujet de leurs projets de collaboration, les deux talents ont tendance à suivre leurs intérêts. « Puisque nous vendons nos documentaires à des chaînes de télévision, nous essayons de trouver la bonne combinaison pour la station à laquelle nous nous adressons. Bien souvent, nous trouvons preneur pour les titres plus accrocheurs et provocants. » Très motivé par la facette queer en tant que culture opprimée, Nico Stagias considère qu’il est important d’explorer les différentes voix de l’expérience queer. « Nous avons beau avoir le mariage gai au Canada depuis 16 ans, nous souffrons encore d’homophobie manifeste, surtout lorsqu’on parle de questions trans et de la stigmatisation liée au VIH, notamment chez les minorités queer visibles. »


Quand il vient en arrive à ses influences personnelles, il dit être est inspiré par les gens queer de son coin, récemment attiré par l’histoire d’Everett Klippert, un homme de la Saskatchewan qui, en 1965, a été condamné à la prison à vie parce qu’il était homosexuel. Le gouvernement libéral actuel essaie de faire des réparations aux hommes comme lui et à leurs familles. « C’est une partie importante et fascinante de notre histoire queer canadienne. »


Nico Stagias espère que le public appréciera les projections de « Balls » à Never Apart. Instructif et, à certains égards, un documentaire sérieux, la santé testiculaire n’est pas toujours matière à rire. « Il est important de ne pas oublier le côté léger de toutes choses. J’espère que l’audience en ressortira plus sensibilisée face aux testicules et que les testicules sont beaux, que vous en ayez, en aviez ou ne vous en serviez pas du tout. Aimez vos couilles et les couilles des autres. »


 Written by Mikela Jay for

Balls Documentary – Director Discussion

Balls documentary director_NICO STAGIAS_producer_CHARLIE DAVID

The director of the Balls documentary is Nico Stagias.  We produce a lot of content together and Nico is most often my cinematographer and co-producer. We sat down recently to discuss his experience directing this new film…

Interview with Balls documentary director, Nico Stagias

CHARLIE: You’ve created such an in depth film about testicles.  Why was it important for you to make it a holistic exploration of balls to share during Testicular Cancer Awareness Month?

NICO:  With our preliminary research and first interviews, it became clear that a discussion around balls needed to happen, particularly when it came to men’s health.
Often a symbol of masculinity, as indicated with expressions like “grow a pair” and “she’s got balls”, they are perhaps the least talked about organ of the male body.  They are relegated to be the penis’ “unattractive” and “ignored” male cousins.


Men tend to shy away from discussion about their balls, especially if they are experiencing medical issues like cancer, torsion or varicocele.  Because men are so guarded about their balls, they often dismiss potential testicular ailments and only address the situation when it becomes critical; when it’s too late.


Men, especially boys, are not encouraged to speak openly about their bodies, particularly if it is to discuss its vulnerability. As one of our subjects in the Balls documentary states: “Let’s just grab a couple of beers and forget about it”.


The Balls documentary aims to engage an open and honest dialogue about balls, and sometimes a lack thereof.  Balls need to be brought into the everyday, from illness to art and everything in-between.  


Go step-by-step watching this NSFW testicular self-exam video with Johnny Rapid.


While creating the Balls documentary, I couldn’t help but think that this concept of how masculinity is broken and in much need of repair. This 1950’s illusion of what it is to be a paternalistic provider is coming apart.  Masculinity as it stands, is not serving men, women or people who fall within the gender spectrum.


We’ve associated masculinity with physical strength and power, but we have not given it the emotional strength and vulnerability it needs to survive holistically.  Somehow, our current definition about masculinity does not include: weakness, patience, gentleness, inclusiveness, queerness and femininity.


A new definition of masculinity needs to involve a tempered strength, a masculinity that listens and adapts to the new world.  Masculinity cannot be fixed.  It needs to adapt, otherwise, we are doomed to fail as “men”, over and over again.  


In the Balls documentary, perhaps this new masculinity is mostly seen through the eyes of queer men and trans people.  Perhaps this specific environment is a circumstance of me being a queer man, or perhaps queer people have more courage to discuss their balls and the notion of masculinity more vulnerably.


Perhaps this new restructuring of masculinity needs to speak more directly to our heterosexual counterparts.  Though to say queer people have figured-out masculinity would be incorrect.  As queer folk, we’ve often had to look outside the definitions of masculinity and femininity to make room for ourselves, but in many ways, we still get lost in heteronormative binaries.  It may seem simple, but it’s such a challenge to think outside 2 boxes. Man/Woman. Gay/Straight. Black/ White. Strong/Weak.


In today’s episode of the Balls documentary we meet Peter who shares the story of how testicular cancer has impacted his life.



April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month and to celebrate we’re sharing our Balls documentary for free on YouTube in a special series of videos.


Please share, comment and ask questions!  We love to hear from you. 


WATCH the unblurred, unbleeped, balls out version of the BALLS documentary here: