Lots of people have heard about Pussy Riot, but most may be a little fuzzy on the facts.

Is it a punk band? Were members jailed for their lyrics? For doing something profane?

These are the kinds of questions Russian filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin wanted to answer with his documentary “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.” The film, which aired on HBO in the summer, will be shown at Space Gallery in Portland Saturday, followed by a discussion including local Pussy Riot supporters.

The film follows the trial of the three Pussy Riot members who were arrested on religious hate crime charges after performing a 40-second “punk prayer” inside of a Moscow cathedral in February 2012. Pozdorovkin, who splits his time between New York and Moscow, said the arrest and conviction of the Pussy Riot members underscores the clamping down on Russian’s human and civil rights lately. Whether it’s political protesters like Pussy Riot, or gay and lesbian activists protesting new anti-gay laws in Russia, Pozdorovkin says he wants Americans to know about what Russians are facing.

“I wanted people to understand that this is not just a human rights story, but an incredibly dramatic story that raises questions about free expression and the political role of art in society,” said Pozdorovkin, 32.

One of the Pussy Riot members arrested was later released, on grounds that she was arrested before actually participating, Pozdorovkin said. The other two – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina – have been in prison since their sentencing about a year ago. Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike recently, was hospitalized and later transferred to a different prison. Both women are scheduled to be released March 3, 2014.

The film is being shown in Portland as part of the Human Rights Film Series at Space (for more on the series, see Dennis Perkins’ column, this page). It’s also being shown just about a week after a group of gay activists from Portland’s Russian sister city, Archangel, were in Portland to promote awareness of their struggles.

The activists, Liudmila Romodina and Oleg Klyuenkov, said that at the same time Russian law has been cracking down on same-sex couples holding hands or displaying affection, activist groups like theirs have been prohibited from assembling in public. They both said that the arrest of the three members of Pussy Riot is seen in Russia as a sign of the government’s intolerance of protest.

“It’s a sign to the entire society that they will not tolerate such protests in the future,” said Klyuenkov, through an interpreter, while in Portland on Nov. 4. “But unlike Pussy Riot, we are not trying to confront the government. We want a to have a dialogue with the government.”

“Punk Prayer” focuses on the trial in Moscow of the three Pussy Riot members and shows them interacting with each other and supporters.

Pozdorovkin said he wants his film to help clear up misconceptions about Pussy Riot and what they did. First, the group is not a band. Members are part of an art collective that stages public displays aimed at protesting the current Russian government. Also, they performed a song in the cathedral to protest church leaders’ support of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s re-election bid.

Pozdorovkin said Pussy Riot had been staging such protests for years without being arrested, but in this case, after religious conservatives in Russia complained, the government intervened.

“It was sort of like the Occupy movement in this country, which was tolerated for a while until conservatives put pressure on the officials to shut camps down,” said Pozdorovkin.

After the film is shown at Space, there will be a discussion including locals who have tried to raise awareness of the Pussy Riot members’ plight. One of those is Robert Lieber, who has taught art history at Southern Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine, and has been working with the group that runs the website freepussyriot.org. He also traveled to Washington, D.C., last September to raise awareness of Pussy Riot in Congress.

Lieber, who has seen the film, thinks it will be an eye-opener for many Mainers.

“The film is an excellent window into the current climate in Russia, pockets of push-back to a rise in suppression,” Lieber said. 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]