To Russia with Love, the new documentary that premieres tonight on EPIX, follows out athletes like Johnny Weir, Anastasia Bucsis, Belle Brockoff in the days leading up to and during the Sochi Olympic Games. Prior to the games, Russia enacted strict laws against “homosexual propaganda” which essentially put tight restrictions on any demonstrations of gay pride and stirred up an overall culture of fear and hatred toward the Russia LGBT community. Gay athletes were put in a challenging situation: Should they boycott the games or should they attend and make a political statement, which could possibly endanger their freedom?
Throughout the documentary, which is narrated by Jane Lynch and led by Johnny Weir, these athletes are forced to make some tough calls. Weir, who received a considerable amount of flack from the LGBTQ community about his stance on the Games, has quite a fascinating journey in the documentary. Using his commentator wardrobe as a subversive way to buck the system, Weir teamed up with EPIX to secretly film To Russia with Love during the Games themselves. The film also follows Russian LGBTQ activists Konstantin Yablotskiy and Elvina Yuvakaeva in their struggle and dogged determination to put on the first Russian Open Games.
AfterEllen: You recently attended the premiere of To Russia with Love. What was it like to watch yourself wrestle with these major conflicting feelings, now so many months after the Olympics?
Anatasia Bucsis: Seeing the final product of To Russia with Love was absolutely amazing. We filmed for six months so I was a little nervous to see how everything would come together. I kept asking myself, “Am I going to be boring? Did I say anything stupid? Does the camera really add 10lbs?” [laughs] But to watch the final cut and see my own personal journey throughout the film was incredibly nostalgic. I grew so much within that time period that I’m thankful it was captured. I’m very proud of the message that is portrayed throughout the film and I really hope that my story will help and inspire anyone that is struggling to come out of the closet.
AE: What was the atmosphere like in Sochi? In the film, we see peaceful protesters hauled away fro holding signs. Was there a tension in the air?
AB: There was a tension in the air but I have to admit, the protest zones were located miles away from the Olympic Village/Park and so I saw no actual protests. It was like there was an elephant in the room; on one hand it was this amazing experience. And on the other, it was haunting to know that laws based off of bigotry and discrimination robbed me of that joy. I just hope that the LGBT community in Russia realizes that it isn’t alone and that the world supports and stands with them.
AE: You were able to share your experience in Sochi with your partner Charline Labonte, who is a phenomenal athlete herself and goaltender for the Canadian Olympic hockey team. She came out this summer in Outsports, a little less than a year after you also publicly came out. That is a big deal and I commend you both. How has coming out publicly changed your life?
AB: Coming out publicly has changed my life in the best way possible. I have the absolute freedom to be myself. It’s amazing the magic you’ll experience when you let go of your concern of what others may or may not think of you. I’m not only happier, I realize that I’m more valuable to society as a whole because I’m comfortable in my own skin and confident to fully use my strengths.
AE: What can you tell us about Fast and Female, of which you are an ambassador?
AB: Fast and Female is an amazing organization founded by my good friend, Olympic Gold medalist in Cross Country Skiing Chandra Crawford. Girls are six times more likely to drop out of sport than boys and Fast and Female is trying to eliminate this statistic. We provide a number of sporting workshops and empowerment seminars to show girls how strong and special they are. I think the world of female sport is in an amazing place right now; it’s a good time to be a girl. Please go to www.fastandfemale.com to check it out!