Igor Myakotin first set foot in Provincetown in 2015 on a J-1 visa. At the time, he was an aspiring filmmaker with a job at Ptown Bikes. Now, eight years later, he’s making his debut as lead producer on director Agniia Galdanova’s film Queendom (2023), a documentary that will screen at the Provincetown International Film Festival.
Queendom follows Gena Marvin, a nonbinary performance artist from Magadan, a small town in Russia’s Far East. It’s the same port town on the Sea of Okhotsk from which Myakotin hails. Magadan is known as a Stalin-era stop for political prisoners being taken to forced labor camps. When Myakotin was brought on board as producer for Queendom, the film had already been partially shot. Seeing artful footage of a queer performer in his familiar hometown, Myakotin says, left him “just shocked.”
“When I was a young gay boy growing up in a small town like that, I didn’t meet any openly gay people, I didn’t see anything on TV, so I was sort of lost,” he says. “I wish I could’ve seen something like this.”
Marvin is a costumer whose looks, which range from taloned and intimidating to chicly monochrome, are unwaveringly striking. Most of her costumes are made from “junk and tape.” The film has screened at South by Southwest in Austin and the Sydney Film Festival and is scheduled to play in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Munich.
In the film’s arresting opening sequence, Queendom’s star traverses a snowy landscape dressed all in white. The outline of her stilettos is barely visible. Wearing a white chiffon collar, she strikes contorted poses against the frosty backdrop. The scene cuts to a fluorescent-lit grocery store. Marvin stands out once again, this time amid hordes of shoppers. A cashier scolds her because her “lingerie is showing.” When she pushes back, she’s told she’s “disturbing the peace.”
The film alternates between Marvin’s acts of defiant performance art and the crackdowns that they incite. As she shaves her head, puts on her face, and swaths herself in layers of tape, conversations about norms and gender never cease. In several scenes, she costumes herself strikingly in spindly talons, looking at once arachnoid and treelike. And her skin-tight plasticky suit of tape, which she must remove with shears at the end of the night, embodies at once self-expression and rebellion against gender and style norms.
“Whenever I go out in character, I’m on top of the world,” Marvin declares as she gussies up. “No one, even here in Russia, can scare me.”
For Myakotin, Queendom encapsulates “why I make films,” he says. He recalls his own youth, when homosexuality was never acknowledged (except in the TV show Glee). “People like me, who are not sure who they are,” he says, “might see a film and say, ‘Oh, nothing is wrong with me.’ ”
Myakotin grew up in Magadan 10 years before Marvin. In addition to the artist’s astounding courage, Myakotin sees access to the internet and social media as a crucial generational change. “Kids these days, even in Russia, are able to see that wherever they grow up is not everything there is to this world,” he says. Marvin herself takes advantage of that technology in the documentary, creating ethereal TikToks and streaming Instagram lives that garner hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Marvin’s fearlessness was never more evident than on Feb. 24, 2022, when she made her way to a protest against the imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. She wears nothing but Spandex undergarments, platform shoes, and barbed wire bound so tightly that it pulls at and visibly contorts her skin. It’s winter. Parka-clad passersby turn to look.
The team behind Queendom had to contend with the possible political consequences of Marvin’s actions, says Myakotin.
“We knew that this could potentially end in her arrest,” he says about the February demonstration. Director Galdanova was on the scene with a set of clothes for Marvin to change into if that happened; lawyers were on standby. “Our director of photography was on rollerblades,” says Myakotin, “and he was riding so that he could run away fairly quickly and keep the footage safe.”
Marvin was one of more than 1,700 protesters detained that day. She fled Russia, where it’s now illegal to be queer (a 2022 Putin-backed LGBTQ “propaganda” law forbids suggesting that nonheterosexual orientations are normal), and went to Paris. There, Marvin filed for asylum. “She’s still waiting for her travel documents,” Myakotin says.
As connected as Myakotin feels to Marvin by geography, hometown, and identity, the two have never met.
Myakotin hasn’t been back to Russia — or anywhere outside the U.S. — since 2015. He’s awaiting his U.S. green card, and were he to leave the country, he’d be unable to reenter. “When I got to Provincetown the first time, it just captured my heart and my soul,” Myakotin says. He’s spent most summers here since 2015 and some winters with gigs selling T-shirts and filming on whale watch boats. He moved to town full-time in December.
So, for now the two interact virtually. But Myakotin looks forward to showing Marvin around this place he’s come to love.
“I think when we see each other in person, it will be really fun,” he says. “She likes a good dance, she likes good music, too, so I think we’re going to hit it off.”
Igor Myakotin will attend both screenings of Queendom: Friday, June 16 at 10:30 a.m. and Saturday, June 17 at 6 p.m. at the Art House. Agniia Galdanova will be at the Saturday screening. Both will be followed by a Q&A.