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 Pytr495

 

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 Pytr495

 

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 Pytr495

 

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.

 

pyotr495.com
facebook.com/pyotr495
twitter.com/pyotr495
instagram.com/blakemawson

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.

 

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Bromance in ‘Forces’, a short film

Forces - bromance

Forces is a short film that captures the intense bromance between a straight military guy and a gay football player.  Friends since childhood, the boundaries of their relationship are forged and tested.

A Powerful & Beautiful Bromance

I like to champion exceptional new talent and director Dominic Poliquin is just that.  He’s masterfully created a short film that captures the combustible friction of a lifelong bromance between straight and gay best friends on the banks of a creek where their backyards meet.

 

 

Forces won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film at its premiere at the Image+Nation Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.  Forces is currently on the festival circuit.  It will be released in September 2017 on digital platforms and with select broadcast partners.

 
 
 
Forces 2

 

Forces - LAUREL_jury_2016

‘‘This film perfects the short narrative form
and it is obvious in every moment
and in every shot that it was lovely crafted.’’

 

Roisín NicOireachtaigh,
Member of Jury,
Image + Nation 2016

 

Forces 3

 

Dominic Poliquin directs this captivating short film which crackles with emotional turbulence and sexual tension.  Actors Nicola Tomassini and Benoit Gauvin effortlessly capture the sacred balance in a bromance.

 Forces - Director Dominic Poliquin

Forces Director Statement – Dominic Poliquin

Tell us about your new project FORCES and what message you would like to communicate to young filmmakers and to the LGBTQ community.

 

Where to start? I am generally bored and tired of seeing Queer characters dying at the end of Oscar winning movies.  I could list endless films like Philadelphia, Boys Don’t Cry, Brokeback Mountain, Milk, The Hours and even Black Swan, in which both male and female LGBTQ characters meet disastrous endings, almost like a ‘formula to kill off the queer’ to pass a message to the world.

 

I am not saying they are not great films, but the all too familiar ‘let’s kill them off” recipe has become a self identification problem for those who don’t fit into what society calls the norm.

 

In FORCES, we follows the life of two young men: a straight soldier that is being deployed to Afghanistan who is overly sensitive and his openly gay childhood friend who recently got kicked off his football team, not for his sexual orientation, but rather for excessive violent behavior.

 

My goal for my short was to avoid some clichés and stereotypes. The straight character in my film is a bit like the damsel in distress and the gay character gets to play the part of the savior.

 

My approach to film making is to not make a big deal about the sexuality of my gay characters. Masculinity and friendship are the main themes at play. The spheres of sports and the military are two iconic institutions that I wanted to explore because they heavily influence male culture, education and up-bringing.

 

Even if some ‘out ’ athletes like Brian Sims and Gareth Thomas were important inspirational figures for me, I also used my over ten years of experience working at the military base of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu where I’ve befriended several straight military, as research, much like an artist doing field work studies for his Masters in film production.

 

Overall the message I want viewers and future filmmakers to take away from FORCES, is that sensitivity in men is strength, a force to be reckoned with and it is certainly not a weakness.

 

Did you know?  There’s also a special friendship between college age best friends in Mulligans.

 

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