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Summarize this content to 100 words “The film is very loving towards Georgia – it’s almost an invitation to go,” said director Levan Akin to me at the BFI London Film Festival last October, discussing his film And Then We Danced – a moving, visually gorgeous gay love story about Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), a teenage Georgian dancer living in Tbilisi, who falls hard for new recruit Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). And Then We Danced was released in UK cinemas on 13 March 2020 and is now available to stream on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema. “I think when it comes out in Georgia in November,” Akin continued, “a lot of people are going to be surprised at how warm it is and how it is very celebratory. There are many people in Georgia who don’t have any idea about LGBTQ issues, but… the movie premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, which really boosted awareness. People are really proud of it.” At those LFF screenings, Akin and Gelbakhiani received standing ovations. One month later, the film had its domestic premiere in Tbilisi, where Akin’s predictions sadly proved overly hopeful, at least with regard to the reaction from some. The film was greeted with far-right protests, as hundreds of men tried to force their way into the cinema to disrupt the screening against a line of police officers in riot gear. Georgia’s Orthodox Church condemned the film, calling it “an attack against the church”. As well as the distress caused to audience members, such protests also necessitated additional security measures, adding costs to venues keen to screen the film. When I meet with Akin again a few months later, he expresses surprise that the hate groups have been given so much media coverage, preferring to emphasise how encouraged he has been by the response from some audiences to the film. “The support and the reaction to the film has been very intense following the premiere,” he says. “Many older people who have never seen any LGBTQ stories were very moved by it. The film has become almost a symbol in Georgia, with people playing the music at demonstrations. It’s really wild.” Levan AkinCredit: Carla Orrego Veliz The Swedish-Georgian director was born in Stockholm. “But we used to go to Georgia every summer. I have an insider and an outsider perspective at the same time, which is really fascinating,” he says. “A lot of the time you are so ingrained in a country because you live there, you are blind to it.” Georgia has a complex relationship to homosexuality. Compared to other former Soviet states, the country is legislatively fairly progressive, with laws that prohibit discrimination against queer people. Akin is sceptical: “It looks and reads very well, but it’s not really properly implemented.” He was partly inspired to make And Then We Danced when thousands of Georgians protested against a 2013 Pride march in Tbilisi, breaking through police barricades and beating queer activists with stinging nettles. “There should be repercussions for the people organising these counter-demonstrations and inciting this violence. And there aren’t.” Akin had to be guarded in how he communicated the film’s subject matter when it was in production. “We contacted one of the national dance ensembles very early on, naively thinking they might help us,” he says. “We told them about the movie. They freaked and called everybody and told them not to work with us. Far-right people called our casting agent and threatened her; we had bodyguards while we were shooting.” The extent of the homophobia resulted in the loss of film locations at extremely short notice, although ultimately the resistance entrenched Akin’s determination to make the film. “It was a very rough shoot, we had very little money but we were also bolstered by all the pushback,” he recalls. “That gave us energy to keep fighting.”   Post-Soviet chill Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) While some filmmakers in post-communist European countries have started to engage with queer-positive storylines in their movies over the last decade, the approach of many directors in post-Soviet states has been considerably more cautious. Ironically, two of the USSR’s greatest filmmakers are considered by many to have been queer. Despite the fact that he married until his death in 1948, many believe Sergei Eisenstein was gay – an interpretation made explicit in Peter Greenaway’s bawdy biopic Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015), a film that earned much opprobrium in Russia. Sergei Parajanov, director of stunning works such as Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) and The Colour of Pomegranates (1968), was sentenced to prison in the late 1940s for homosexual acts with an officer of the MGB (a forerunner of the KGB), a few years before he began making films. His flamboyance and provocative nature earned him the disapproval of the Soviet authorities, and in the early 1970s he was sent to a maximum-security gulag on a number of charges, a sentence that led to a large group of artists and filmmakers worldwide petitioning for his release. Unsurprisingly, none of the films of Eisenstein or Parajanov feature explicitly gay characters, although homoeroticism can be detected in the work of both. While some critics have read queer subtexts into films such as Hussein Erkenov’s 100 Days Before the Command (1990), a dreamlike, erotically charged piece about young soldiers in the Soviet army, it wasn’t until 2004, nearly 15 years after the dissolution of the USSR, that openly queer characters began to appear. You I Love (2004), a silly romantic comedy with very broad satirical swipes at capitalism, is Russia’s first gay-positive film, even if it ends on an ambiguous note for the two male lovers. Felix Mikhailov’s Jolly Fellows (2009) explores the lives of drag queens in Moscow, with many moments of misery weaved in among the sparkles. The bleak but beautiful Winter Journey (2013) follows the doomed affair between a gay music student and a petty criminal. A controversial Russian amendment, forbidding positive depictions of homosexuality “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values”, was signed into law by Vladimir Putin in 2013, with transgressors facing hefty fines. As a result Kirill Serebrennikov, after struggling to find funding amid the resultant homophobia in Russia, gave up his ambition to make a film about the gay composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky (Serebrennikov’s 2016 film The Student does feature a prominent gay character who, inevitably, ends up killed by the end credits). If representations of gay characters are rare, portrayals of lesbian, bisexual and trans characters in feature films from former Soviet states are almost non-existent. While homophobia may be prevalent in Georgia, the tolerance of queer people is significantly greater than in many other countries. Homosexuality is illegal in more than 70 nations, and in 2019 Brunei briefly joined the ranks of countries where gay sex is punishable by death. Remarkably, films exploring queer lives are still made in these countries. Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki (2018), the first Kenyan film selected for the Cannes Film Festival, was temporarily banned in its home country for “promoting lesbianism”. Walking with Shadows (2019), a British-Nigerian co-production set in Lagos and based on a novel by Jude Dibia, explores the fallout when the homosexuality of a married man is discovered. Although Rafiki and Walking with Shadows are comparatively mild in their depiction of queer love – the former is a teen romance, the latter a soapy melodrama – the fact that they are from countries where gay people are persecuted is a major step forward. Making these kinds of films in countries with strong traditional values is, unsurprisingly, very challenging. When shooting Retablo (2017), a powerful Bafta-nominated drama set in a Peruvian Andes village, in which a teenager discovers his father has had affairs with men, director Alvaro Delgado Aparicio had to sidestep some of the queer details of the story when seeking permission to film in rural locations. Akin faced similar issues when scouting locations for And Then We Danced, occasionally needing to state that the story was about a French tourist who falls in love with Georgian culture, rather than a gay romance.   A love letter to Georgia And Then We Danced (2019) And Then We Danced is much more optimistic in its outlook than these other films made in oppressive conditions. Akin was determined, for example, not to show any violence towards the gay characters. First-time viewers may watch certain scenes on…

#Levan #Akin #Danced #warm #embrace #punch #stomach #Sight #Sound

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