Mr Gay Syria, Documentary, Mr Gay World, Syria
Mr Gay Syria Source: Youtube

In areas where the terrorist group IS ruled, LGBTQ Syrians were widely and publicly persecuted; they were arrested, murdered, and even thrown off rooftops. 

Mahmoud Hassino - Syrian journalist, gay rights campaigner, and the founder of Syria's first gay magazine, Mawaleh - wanted to show the world how the LGBTQ community was being treated in his native country and abroad. 

Although he lives in Berlin, Germany, that didn't stop him from highlighting the topic. 

When anti-government parties protested across Syria back in 2011, Hassino hoped that, eventually, LGBTQ people would gain their rights. However, he soon realized that the community became a target for all groups involved in the conflict.

In order to show the world the atrocities gay Syrians had to face and are still facing, Hassino became committed to creating Mr. Gay Syria and sending the winner to Mr. Gay World - an annual international beauty pageant competition for gay men. 

Mr Gay Syria, Documentary, LGBT, Syria, Mahmoud Hassino
Mahdmoud Hassino in Mr Gay Syria Source: CNN

Infatuated with the idea after meeting Hassino in Turkey, Turkish director and journalist Ayse Toprak set out to document the lives and challenges of Hassino and the applicants. 

In a candid interview with CNN, Toprak said: "Mahmoud thought it would be the ultimate way of defying everything he has lived through and raising awareness about LGBTI issues," when asked why Mr. Gay World was chosen as the voice for gay Syrians.

Ayse Toprak, turkish filmmaker, turkish director, Mr. Gay Syria
Turkish filmmaker Ayse Toprak Source: burnsfilmcenter

Talking about the difficulties of shooting such a documentary, Toprak confessed that she and her crew couldn't openly tell the Turkish police what the movie was about.

Even though homosexuality isn't "illegal" in Turkey, LGBTQ people remain the victims of hate crimes, harassment, and abuse. 

Toprak said that if they were questioned by the police, they'd change the title to something like "A Good Life" to cover up what they were doing. 

"We tried to stay under the radar. I don't know what would have happened if we told them it was a gay film," Toprak told CNN

"I thought it was possible we could lose our filming permit, but I have no idea. Maybe nothing would have happened -- but I just didn't want to risk it," she added.

On another note, the documentary was also a way of showing viewers that it's not always misery and sadness back in Syria. 

"Syrians aren't always crying and miserable. They also love to laugh and want to live.

Laughter is a way to survive," Toprak explained. 

"When we showed the film at Sheffield Film Festival, one of the audience members was a Syrian girl. She raised her hand and said: "Thank you for making this film -- it's refreshing that I can cry, but I can also laugh at the same time. Because everything I usually see is about the victimization of Syrians," Toprak continued.

Here's the preview of the documentary