(WB) A new documentary examining the lives of LGBT people in Russia is set to receive its world premiere next weekend at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Described in publicity material as “harrowing,” “A Worm in the Heart,” by filmmaker Paul Rice, follows a gay couple from Ireland and Wales as they travel on the Trans-Siberian railway through Russia, stopping off in multiple cities to meet with members of the LGBT community living under oppressive laws and harsh societal attitudes.

Detailing the extraordinary lives and brave stories of the diverse LGBT communities across Russia, the film was shot in six cities along the Trans-Siberian railway and utilizes intimate interviews about current Russian life, featuring deeply personal and moving accounts from activists and non-activists alike. The film follows Rice and his partner, Liam Jackson Montgomery, as they meet with the many heroic LGBT people who risk their lives living authentically under oppressive laws and prejudices, from Nobel Peace prize nominees and international activists to drag queen performers thriving in remote Siberia.

Rice, who directed the film as well as appearing, writing, producing, and serving as cinematographer, says he made “A Worm in the Heart” in an effort provide personal accounts of the current state of the LGBT communities in Russia, to call attention to the parallels from these repressed societies with western nations and project a cautionary message against the rise of homophobia and transphobia, and to offer a universal message of hope that people should not remain hostage to politicians or governments. 

The filmmaker says, “I’m a gay man who is lucky enough to have the freedom to live in socially liberal nations with laws protecting me from discrimination based on my sexual orientation. Although I often do an instinctual glance around me to ensure holding my partner’s hand in public won’t result in harassment, I’m lucky to have never lived in a nation where holding my partner’s hand in public could result in my arrest which is the case in Russia. While western nations were debating marriage equality and workplace protections for LGBT people, laws like the ‘gay propaganda law’ were being enacted in Russia making any public display of queerness an arrestable offense.”

He adds, “The subject and contents of this documentary are incredibly timely and important due largely to the current state of human rights in global affairs. LGBT rights are being almost entirely ignored or quashed in Russia. State owned media sources in Russia often dismiss or play down the plight of LGBT people in Russia, and the fact that politicians and those in leadership positions even refuse to acknowledge the brutal atrocities happening in the state of Chechnya against gay men is a glaring example.”

Additionally, Rice says, “The people I met with along this journey have profoundly impacted mine and my partner Liam’s life, and I hope that this documentary will spread their stories and messages further afield. The LGBT community is not confined to national borders, and I believe it is entirely our global responsibility to use our voices to support the LBGT+ people of Russia and beyond.”

Montgomery, who is also a filmmaker, serves as the documentary’s executive producer and conducted the onscreen interviews with subjects.

The film premieres on Friday, January 17, at 10am, with an encore screening on Sunday the 19th at 4pm. For more information on venue and tickets, you can visit the Santa Barbara International Film Festival website.

An official distributor or release date has yet to be announced.