An ultra-conservative group in Georgia is threatening attendees and planning to protest screenings of the country’s first LGBTQ film. Tickets sold out within minutes for the Tblisi premiere of “And Then We Danced,” a tender coming-of-age tale about a traditional Georgian dancer discovering his sexuality. Written and directed by Levan Akin, a Swedish filmmaker with family ties to Georgia, the film was recently chosen as Sweden’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film. The visually sumptuous and emotionally wrought film has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and has been a hit with audiences in its native Sweden. But the queer coming-of-age tale faces a very different reception in its other home country.
“And Then We Danced” is set to premiere in Tblisi, where it was filmed, on November 8. While a representative for the film reports that all 5,000 tickets sold out in 13 minutes, even crashing movie theater websites, the Georgian church and other conservative groups are adamantly opposed to the progressive film.
The popularity of the film has provoked the ire of right wing group Georgian March, which espouses homophobic views as well as opposition to immigration and Islam. The Georgian Orthodox Church has also gone on record against the film, which it sees as an attempt to undermine Georgian and Christian values. Incidentally, the church became mired in its own controversy last week, when a high-ranking priest accused the head of the Church, Patriarch Ilia II, as well as other church officials, of having sexual activity with men, including underage boys.
“The hysteria against the church is coming up again in the coming days because we know that some movie theaters [are showing] a film about the love of a gay couple, which is an attempt to undermine Georgian and Christian values,” said church representative Andrew Jagmaidgze (via Google translate.) “The church has been protesting a lot about this, which will be a reason for a new attack on the church.”
The protests highlight the dire situation in Georgia for LGBTQ rights. The fledgling democracy’s hostility toward LGBTQ people nearly derailed completion of the film. Multiple locations dropped out after learning of the film’s queer content. Akin and his crew had to keep a low profile while shooting, employing guerilla filmmaking tactics to finish.
“The dire and threatening situation in Georgia ahead of my film’s release breaks my heart,” Akin told IndieWire via an emailed statement. “I made this film with love and compassion. It is my love letter to Georgia and to my heritage. With this story I wanted to reclaim and redefine Georgian culture to include all not just some. It is absurd that people who bought tickets need to be brave and risk getting harassed or even assaulted just for going to see a film. But unfortunately these are the dark times we live in and the pending protests just proves how vital it is to stand up against these shadowy forces in any way we can.”
The opposition to the film mirrors that faced by Kenyan lesbian film “Rafiki” during last year’s lead-up to the Oscars. Kenya initially banned the film from screening in the country, which would have disqualified it from Oscar contention. Filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu won a legal battle to earn an Oscar-qualifying run, but the film was not chosen by the Kenyan Film Board as the country’s official submission.