DIRECTED BY: Paul Rice
Shot in six cities along the Trans-Siberian Railway, A Worm In The Heart details the current state of the Russian queer community – giving both broad societal overviews and deeply personal accounts from activists and non-activists alike
The film follows Paul Rice and Liam Jackson Montgomery, a gay couple from Ireland, as they travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway, meeting with a diverse range of LGBTQ+ people-from Nobel Peace prize nominees and drag queens to those who have suffered brutal homophobic and transphobic attacks.
A Worm In The Heart is the directorial debut of Paul Rice, who, along with his boyfriend Liam Jackson Montgomery, travel across six cities in Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway to document the stories of LGBTQ+ organisations and members of the LGBTQ+ community in that area, how they are chastised and persecuted by members of the public and those in power (police officers, politicians) due to the growing number of anti-gay laws and propaganda in the country.
Paul, who narrates the documentary, gives the viewer a glimpse into his own experiences of coming out in Ireland, as well as Liam, who lived in the U.K, during the time of Section 28 (prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’) still being part of legislation until it was repealed in the early 2000’s. While the film highlights how LGBTQ+ rights have been evolving in Western society over the last decade, their journey through Russia and meeting members of the community just highlights the stark task ahead considering how strict and severe they are treated, from not being able to show any signs of affection or even hold hands in public, to being physically assaulted either walking down the street or participating in a pride parade…and then the documentary touches on the news that law enforcement in Chechnya had rounded up over one-hundred men suspected of being homosexuals and detained them in prison, serving hard labour, tortured, and even some were killed, though these reports are denied by their leader as, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return”.
While we witness how vast the landscape of Paul and Liam’s surroundings are outside the travelling train, we do get to see glimpses of hope amongst members of the LGBTQ+ community that resides in these six cities, continuing to fight for progressive change in a society that is doing everything in their power to have them silent. The voices and stories we hear are from Igor Kochketkov, president of the LGBT Network in Russia who was nominated for a Noble Peace Prize in 2014, Yael Demedetskaya, who organised the first ever Transgender support group in Russia as well as being responsible for translating medical information on transgenderism in Russia, evening publishing them on paper and making them available publicly, and British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, best known for his work in LGBTQ+ social movements and taking part in demonstrations in Russia protesting against the anti-gay laws. There’s some harrowing accounts that unfold during the documentary that are best left for the viewer to see/hear for themselves. The documentary is well edited by Leah Turner, with the direction style by Paul Rice also good here.
A Worm In The Heart is an eye-opening documentary from Paul Rice about members of the Russian LBGTQ+ community having their voices and struggles heard in a society that chooses to punish them for being different. Definitely worth seeking out if it’s playing near you, theatrically or digitally.