Scottish premiere for gay comedy filmed in Ukraine

Edinburgh’s Summerhall Cinema screens blast at “homophobic” Putin

by Amber Wilkinson

The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back
The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back
A new gay-themed film The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back - which takes aim at Russian homophobia - will receive its Scottish premiere with special preview screenings at Summerhall Cinema on 8 May with other shows to follow.

The comedy under the Screen Horizons banner follows a similar formula to The Shiny Shrimps, which told the true story of a gay water polo team based in Paris. The 2019 film attracted audiences of nearly 600,000. The follow-up, though set in Russia, was shot mainly in neighbouring Ukraine before the current conflict.

Directors Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo say their aim was to lift the taboo of homosexuality in sport and now they’re turning to even more political topics of state-sponsored homophobia and hate crimes. Little did they imagine the turn of events which has badly affected their cast and crew, a reported 80% of which were Ukrainian.

Cédric Le Gallo, top and co-director Maxime Govare
Cédric Le Gallo, top and co-director Maxime Govare Photo: Cyril Masson
Govare said: "Shooting in Russia was impossible because of the law that prohibits LGBT propaganda. Filming two men kissing in the street would have landed us all in jail."

Ukraine was chosen for its scenic similarity to Russia, and the filming facilities for Western teams.

An actress from the film was among those sheltering with her children in the Kharkiv metro after the Russian invasion, while some crew members have taken up arms while others fled to France, where they are calling for solidarity in the profession to find them work.

For the directors, beyond homophobia, The Revenge of the Shiny Shrimps is a hymn to freedom in general, and the link to the current situation in Ukraine is obvious.

"The film tells how Putin oppresses the LGBT community,” saidLe Gallo. “Today, Putin oppresses the whole world, so that particularly resonates".

The film paints an unequivocal portrait of the effects of Putin’s policies, in a country where violence against homosexuals is frequent. It is in this universe that the merry gang of “Shiny Shrimps” arrives, joined by a new character, Sélim (Bilal El Atreby), a young heterosexual steeped in prejudice. The rainbow water polo team, which was going to the Gay Games in Tokyo, misses its match and finds itself stuck on hostile ground.

While some hole up in hotels, others venture outside. But in Russia, finding a gay club to party at or a one-night stand on a dating app can turn into a nightmare. The film sees the characters fleeing fearsome "gay hunters", who beat up homosexuals on street corners and discover the hell of conversion therapy.

"We had fun putting homosexuals in the country of homophobes,” said Le Gallo, but the film, between adventure comedy and musical comedy, intends to strike a wider target.

The two directors hope their film will be screened in Ukraine when the conflict is over, as planned before the war.

Richard Mowe, one of the organisers of Screen Horizons, said: “We are overjoyed to host the premiere of the film which I saw in Paris recently. It is all the more apposite given the situation in Ukraine but demonstrates that the arts know no boundaries. The two directors are delighted about the screenings for which they will provide a special recorded introduction.”

The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back is released by Glasgow-based Park Circus. The organisers of Screen Horizons will make a collection for Ukrainian charities at the screenings.

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