Kate Hennessey is in Leningrad for the 1991 Documentary Festival with colleagues, the chance of a lifetime, she feels, to collect fascinating interviews for her guerrilla film class in NYC. The USSR is falling apart, corruption and crime rampant. After attending an “illegal” meeting of women and taping their descriptions of the harshness of their lives, Kate and her new friend Sveta are abducted to a cemetery, robbed, and left to die in the bitter cold. Kate escapes; she thinks Sveta has too. Kate believes the abduction was random.
She’s more worried about the fight that she and her lover Gilly had just before she left the U.S., and she throws herself into gathering more footage, her “Messages from Leningrad.”
As rumors circulate of an impending coup, Kate discovers that Sveta is missing and tapes a video interview of Sveta’s lover, 17-year-old Nadya, who has been raped by the police because she is rozovaya, gay. Kate learns to her horror when she and Nadya visit the Kafé Dusha (Café Soul), a dairy bar where gay women socialize, that Sveta may be incarcerated in a Psychiatric Clinic for the Cure (drugs and shock therapy). Or she may be dead.
An attack against Kate as she shops along the Nevsky Prospect and a fire in the wing of her hotel make her understand that someone wants to kill her. She flees Leningrad, her videos taped to her stomach, pursued by a scar-faced KGB officer and the local police who have found Sveta’s frozen body in the cemetery. Back home in NYC, Kate finds the danger overseas has come straight to her doorstep, and that nothing is what it seems.