inside the chinese closet
Cherry and her friends discuss the problems of life in Chinese societyHuman Rights Watch Film Festival

Andy is talking to his father on his mobile and on the surface, he's pretty much like any son, talking in monosyllables to his father. He listens patiently while his father doles out matrimonial advice. "Marriage is similar to politics," he says. Clearly, the pressure is on for eligible bachelor Andy, to find a wife. But something in this picture is not what it seems. His father tells him, "You should find a girl. A lesbian."

This is the world of the fake-marriage market in China, were many gay men and lesbians find suitable spouses for social and economic convenience, often looking for each other online. Director of Inside the Chinese Closet, Sophia Luvara, says that she came about the subject for her latest documentary by chance. "It was actually very random. I was there travelling in China during 2009 and I was looking for good stories. A friend of mine took me to a gay club In Shanghai. I thought this was amazing - there are actually gay clubs in China. Suddenly this gay world opened up to me.

"But things happen behind closed doors and the state doesn't stop them as long as they don't go out and ask for human rights. From the point of view of the personal life, it's problematic because the family will demand that they have children."

So Andy, a 31-year-old architect is desperate to get married and talks about a woman he thinks may fit the bill. "She's someone I could marry. But not in a traditional sense."

The pain and confusion for the 31-year-old is plain to see. But he comforts himself and boasts to camera how popular he is in the gay circles he moves in. Particularly those who like "Bears'" who are "judged by the size of their body." While Andy is certainly not morbidly obese, he probably qualifies in the cuddly category.

When Andy told his father he was gay, his father's response was to shed tears. "He cried. I never saw him cry before." In order to please their parents but also to have some semblance of independence and their own lives, many gay men and lesbians in China hope to find prospective spouses at fake-marriage markets.

In some ways, these get togethers are no different from straight speed-dating events. Everyone wears a number and asked what they are looking for in a partner. But it gets a little tricky when it comes to the subject of children. "The lesbian's not going to give you the baby," says one of Andy's friends.

Cherry, a young woman who works in banking, tells her story. When Cherry fell in love with a female classmate, she was expelled from school and was beaten by her father. Despite this inauspicious beginning to her sexual orientation, Cherry's spirit was not broken and she remains forgiving. "Parents in China are not as open as in the West," she says.

Luvara says the one-child policy in China has created a massive problem. "All these young people are only children and they are expected to produce grandchildren for their parents. To carry on the family name."

But there is hope for Cherry, as Luvara says that after having a heart-to-heart with her parents, they have to some accept her chosen lifestyle and she is living in the city with her girlfriend.

The director believes things are changing in China – but very slowly. In the last two decades, China's LGBT community has made huge gains in social acceptance. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997, and a few years later it was removed from an official list of mental illnesses.

Inside the Chinese Closet offers an up-close and personal view of how the LGBT community is coping in a country which still holds traditional values very much at its heart. Welcome to the gay lifestyle, Chinese style. On the surface, the lives of these young Shanghainese are no different than anywhere else in the world. There are beautiful shots in the film of futuristic skyscrapers, a vista straight out of the Matrix. But scratch the surface and the heterosexual norms of the family still run deep.

Inside the Chinese Closet is part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, March 13, 2016.

6:00 PM / Curzon Soho, London. The screening is followed by discussion with filmmaker Sophia Luvara.