Q&A with Agniia Galdanova | Picturehouse Recommends

The Queendom director gives us an exclusive insight into a fierce, urgent portrait of an artist and activist.

Lara Peters

04 Dec 23

Gena, a queer artist from a small town in Russia, dresses in otherworldly costumes made from junk and tape, and protests the government on the streets of Moscow. The performances - often dark, strange, evocative, and queer at their core - are a manifestation of Gena's subconscious, an effort to change people's perception of beauty and queerness and bring attention to the harassment of the LGBTQ+ community. But they come at a price.

Queendom, now playing at select Picturehouse cinemas, is a fierce and urgent work from director Agniia Galdanova - who gave us some unique insights into the making of this award-winning documentary.

When did you first come across Gena Marvin and her work, and what inspired you to tell her story?

I wanted to bring on-screen an inspiring story from the Russian queer community. To not only focus on problems and challenges which are crucial to discuss but also to celebrate the beauty of queerness and to spark conversations in the community.

I was drawn to Gena's artistry and the way she sees the world. I believe her story is universal, and hopefully, it will encourage people to speak up for themselves and give them a feeling that they are not alone, but also opens some hearts for more acceptance and understanding of each other.

The film weaves its documentary footage around Gena's stunning performance art pieces. Were these performance sequences always part of your vision for the film, and how did shooting them compare to shooting more traditional 'fly-on-the-wall' footage?

The idea of performance art pieces presented itself while filming Gena with a more traditional "fly-on-the-wall" approach. We were shooting a scene with Gena in a desolate landscape at sunset, and the light was so magical and special. The idea was born then. It was clear that we had to keep creating these performance art pieces in the film.

It was a new form of creative collaboration between us, which was a pure experiment for me as a documentary filmmaker. It really gave a glimpse into the subconsciousness of Gena and her inner art world. And we both are very happy with the result! I think these performances are independent pieces of art, which deserve to have life outside of the documentary.

Queendom is being released during a very fraught time for LGBTQ+ people and drag art – both in Russia where the film is set, and here in the UK – but it's had an incredibly positive response. How has this political climate changed your experience showing it to audiences worldwide?

We felt an immediate urgency to share the film with audiences around the globe, especially with the members of the LGBTQ+ community in hostile places. Our strong belief is that queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere. Queendom shines the light on the dangers and challenges that queer people face in this current climate.

Watching the film is an act of resistance and resilience. And it's important that people across the aisle come together to support queer people. This change starts small, in the family units and communities.

While showing Queendom in South Korea, an older man in the audience told me that he feels pain because he recognizes Gena's grandfather. This is the power of the film and we hope it continues to challenge people's perception of the LGBTQ+ members, queer artists and drag performers.

How important is the big screen experience to you? Why should audiences seek out Queendom at the cinema?

Queendom was made to be experienced on a big screen: from the poignant score by Damien Vandesande and Toke Bronson, immersive sound design by Andrey Degachev, intimate cinematography by Ruslan Fedotov and brilliant editing by Vlad Fishez - all these cinematic elements serve the story and engage audiences on an emotional level.

It is important for me that people embark on the journey together with Gena - and don't leave her world until the last frame of the film. I believe experiencing the film in the cinema, without interruptions, will have the most impact on people.

And we need to support local cinemas that show independent films that push the form and move the conversation forward.

Queendom is now playing at select Picturehouse Cinemas. Get tickets now.