And Then We Danced
by writer/director Levan Akin
In the spring of 2016, I landed in Tbilisi, Georgia to do research for what would become And Then We Danced. Three years prior, I had seen horrific news footage from when some fifty people tried to hold what was supposed to be Georgia’s first Pride parade. They were brutally attacked by a counter demonstration of thousands, organized by the Georgian Orthodox Church and Far-Right groups.
Twelve people were hospitalized.
I am of Georgian descent but I was born and raised in Sweden to immigrant parents. Growing up, I had always heard stories about Georgia, how progressive it used to be before the Bolsheviks took over, and how ancient and rich Georgia’s culture is. My older sister and I used to watch VHS-recordings of Georgian folk dance. We spent every summer of my childhood in Tbilisi and those were some of my happiest memories. But around the time of my parents’ divorce I lost Georgia. My parents re-married non-Georgians and we stopped speaking Georgian at home. We stopped going there during the civil war in the nineties and it wasn’t until I was 28 years old that I went back on my own. It felt like a dream, re-treading old paths I’d walked but that were somehow so different now.
McDonald’s and Wendy’s had replaced imposing Soviet-style government buildings.
Early on in my research I discovered that there was a great divide between the younger post-Soviet generation and their parents. They were living in different realities. The young had grown up in a globalized society with everything at their fingertips, while the older generation still received their information from traditional news sources, many of them Russian.
I interviewed Georgians who were old, young, gay, bi, straight, and trans. Early on, I decided that I wanted to include many of these people in the film, which at this point was to be a documentary. However, as we got closer to production, many of them backed out for fear of being ostracized from their families if they were to show themselves in this context. Slowly the film evolved into a kind of hybrid between fiction and reality.
I chose Dance because I have always loved Dance. I used to dance myself as a child and I knew that I could say so much without words if I incorporated it into the film. I found Levan Gelbakhiani (who plays the lead part of the dancer Merab) on Instagram. The first time we met I could see that he had so many different expressions, and that his eyes had layers of sorrow. Once he agreed to be part of the film I built the story around him. Gelbakhiani is a dancer foremost and he had never acted in a film before. I spent six months with him, filming him and just getting to know him and his world. I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible with the camera and me so he would forget it during the shoot. I wanted his emotional journey and the process of falling in love to be portrayed in the most naturalistic way.
The shoot was difficult for all of us because we had limited resources and had to be very clandestine due to the attitude toward LGBTQ people in Georgia. Many of the characters in the film are the people I met during my research playing “versions” of themselves. It was difficult to plan the shooting and I could not really have a clear script because everything would change so quickly. We filmed guerrilla-style in real locations that were not closed off, so we had to be very fast. The editing process became almost like an excavation; and often we did not have much material due to the nature of how it was filmed.
And Then We Danced was released on November 8, 2019 in Georgia. The cinemas were barraged by thousands of people trying to stop the screenings. People were injured for just trying to see it and the Georgian Orthodox Church publicly denounced the film. These were very dark days for me as I was constantly worried that something very bad would happen to somebody because of And Then We Danced, a film that was a celebration of Georgia and its beautiful culture.
And Then We Danced is a film about the importance of carving out your own space in a culture that does not want to accept you. It is a film about the importance of re-defining your own traditions and taking charge of them, not allowing other people to decide how your tradition and national identity should be interpreted. This is something that unfortunately is very relevant in many places in the world today.
In the end, we could only screen the film for three days due to the heavy security costs that were needed in order to hold the screenings. Thirty policemen were stationed in every screening room and the cavalry were guarding the entrance outside, pushing off the aggressive crowds.
Nevertheless, against all odds the film was a success and has become a movement in Georgia. The song “Jonny Boy” by Kite is now being played at demonstrations and nightclubs. Most importantly, And Then We Danced is helping to bolster the LGBTQ community across Georgia, which was my intention from the beginning—after seeing those horrific images from the Pride parade in 2013—to somehow shine a different light on this topic.
And Then We Danced is my love letter to Georgia.