Tampa Bay filmmaker denies anti-LGBTQ views, ‘Koko’ origins

ABOVE: “Koko,” photo via the film’s Facebook page. Story updated with additional details 01/25/21.

TAMPA BAY | Clearwater-based filmmaker Anjani Pandey, whose feature film “Koko” ignited controversy after its St. Petersburg screening Jan. 18, is denying that he holds anti-LGBTQ beliefs or that his film is an allegory for his opposition to same-sex marriage despite evidence to the contrary.

“Koko” was featured during this year’s Sunshine City Film Festival (SCFF) at AMC Sundial, where it won the Audience Choice Award. Its protagonist discovers “the purest form of love in his one true companion,” a dog which he seeks to legally wed.

Pandey discussed the film’s origins with an entertainment blog last September, a resurfaced interview that the Tampa Bay Times highlighted Jan. 21. Speaking with The Movie Blog, the filmmaker noted that he opposes same-sex marriage and called “Koko” a satire inspired by marriage equality.

“I am not personally [a] supporter [of] the same-sex marriage law, and when I heard same-sex marriage [had] been declared as a legal … I was not happy,” he shared. “So I thought [that] when [a] man is legally allowed to [marry] another man, when a woman is legally allowed to [be] married [to] another woman, then one day … someone can ask [to make it] legal to marry his/her dog, too, which is TOTALLY unnatural and unacceptable by anyone including me. We can’t even imagine that kind of society we will be living in.”

Watermark reached out to both the SCFF and the Central Florida Film Festival (CENFLO) for comment, the latter of which was scheduled to screen the film Jan. 23. The former noted that its “stellar reputation for inclusion and diversity speaks for itself and we invite you and anyone else to our inclusive red carpet experience.”

Organizers also noted that the SCFF “supports diversity and inclusion and we do not take position on any film selected.” CENFLO canceled its “Koko” screening.

“We were recently made aware of some hateful and hurtful comments made by the filmmaker responsible for ‘Koko,’” organizers shared. “Now that these comments have come to light we have decided we will not show the film at our festival this upcoming weekend.

“At CENFLO we pride ourselves on inclusion and we strongly support the Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage between consenting adults,” they added. “We firmly believe that LOVE IS LOVE and we don’t feel that the filmmaker behind Koko’s views align with our festival.”

Ahead of the cancellation, Pandey publicly urged supporters via social media not to “listen to the gossip/rumors.” He subsequently called the view that “Koko” was anti-LGBTQ a misunderstanding, adding that he chose to “honor the decision” made by the festival.

Pandey also stressed that he does not hold anti-LGBTQ views in an email with Watermark. He shared that he has “very close friends … who are gay and I have a very high respect for them.”

“Of course I am not [a] supporter of Same-Sex Marriage LAW as my faith & my beliefs do not allow me,” he continued. “I consider myself a man of God. I am Hindu and also believe in Jesus [and the] Bible. I believe ‘marriage is a relationship between one man and one wom[a]n.’ BUT it’s just me. I don’t expect anyone to believe the same.”

Regarding the anti-LGBTQ origins for “Koko” that he discussed in the resurfaced interview, Pandey explained that “I made up one imaginary inspiration story.” He added that he “never thought people [would] interpret [it] this way and can call ‘Koko’ … anti-LGBT.”

According to the filmmaker, 54 viewers watched “Koko” during this year’s SCFF, a number the festival did not confirm. He added that at least seven LGBTQ viewers also watched the film “and they all loved it.”

“It was never my intention to hurt anyone’s emotions,” the filmmaker also noted. “We should give ‘Koko’ a fair chance to get screenings[,] release smoothly and let [the] audience decide!”

Update, 01/25/21:

Following the publication of this article, Watermark was alerted to a crowdfunding Kickstarter launched Nov. 28, 2018 ahead of the film’s production. The campaign was ultimately suspended due to an intellectual property dispute and confirms the film’s anti-LGBTQ origins.

Its text can be found below:

This story is a fictional Satire with a warning to lawmakers: Consider the implications of same-sex marriage. With legality for one there must be legal standing for all. What’s good for the geese must surely be good for the ducks.

Now it’s your time to raise your voice by supporting this project as it seeks to embrace the long held traditions of the purity of marriage institution. DON’T JUST ACCEPT SILENTLY JUST BECAUSE IT’S LEGAL NOW. The word marriage stands for the union of a man and a woman as made from birth. It is simple and enough. If you do not agree and can’t digest the concept of SAME SEX MARRIAGE, this Film is your voice. Save our Next Generation BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!!!!

We appreciate and thank you in advance for any help. YOU CAN EVEN PLEDGE AS ANONYMOUS… We can understand and much appreciated!!!!

This is not just a feature film but it’s evolution… we’ll create history!!! [This content has been removed by Kickstarter due to an intellectual property dispute.]

We know making this film is not going to be a fun ride in the park. We may even get threats… but since we are determined, we are going to make it happen. We’ll complete this project safely and with care as it is moral and just.

Watermark reached out to Pandey for additional comment. Despite the clear anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, he called it “another confusion.”

Koko’s story “is unique and one of its kind human-canine true love story,” the filmmaker argued, “open to many interpretation[.] [S]ome may say anti-same sex marriage law, some may say [it is] for [the] same-sex marriage law, some may say it’s about dragging [a] dog into [the] marriage institution … it all depends on audience perception. For me it’s [a] story about [a] true & pure relationship between two souls.”

To learn more about the SCFF and or CENFLO, visit SunshineCityFilmFestival.com and CentralFloridaFilmFestival.com. To learn more about Pandey or “Koko,” visit KokoTheMovie.com.

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