You would not guess from its title, but the Swedish-Georgian film, AND THEN WE DANCED was called the most controversial film of 2020. In the era of “love is love,” this little, gay-themed, dance-film (in the Georgian language) has been met with explosive opposition and also applause depending on the audience greeting it.
During its Cannes premiere, the Georgian film became the talk of the festival but in its native country of Georgia where it was filmed and produced the filmmakers, cast and crew were the subjects of threats and violent opposition some of which required police protection.
Watch the official trailer and the filmmaker’s statement towards the end of this article.
The most controversial film of 2020, Levan Akin’s AND THEN WE DANCED has faced aggression at home during production and applause, internationally, at festival screenings.
There is nothing easy about Georgian dance. While taking its toll on the body, it requires nothing less than absolute perfection. Pride, virtue, honor, and masculine dominance are all expressed in this ancient art and national treasure. Clarified by the uncompromising instructor in the film, “There is no room for weakness.” There, rooted in that statement is the complicated, strict requirement of performing the dance, in a hyper-masculine Eastern-European culture with deep Christian beliefs.
AND THEN WE DANCED is the result of a shock to the system of its director. Levan Akin, a Swedish-born filmmaker with Georgian origin became aware of the aggression against fifty members of the gay community by thousands of angry protestors, backed by far-right extremists and the Georgian Orthodox Church. It was through news clips broadcasting in Europe that the filmmaker took notice of the fight against the LGBTQ community who wanted to celebrate Gay Pride in Tbilisi, a place Akin assumed fairly progressive and accepting until that day. The violence by the anti-gay group and everyone caught in between made headlines internationally and they became the catalyst for a film that will do the opposite. Akin’s film focuses on the power of love while showcasing the beauty of Georgia, its culture, and the iconic dance that has always been a strong and intangible part of Georgian heritage.
In the film, AND THEN WE DANCED, a young dancer MERAB (Levan Gelbakhiani) has been training for years at the National Georgian Ensemble with his female dance partner, MARY (Ana Javakishvili). Soon, Merab finds himself distracted and smitten by a charismatic, new student, IRAKLI (Bachi Valishvili) who poses a threat as strongest rival Merab must face in the upcoming national auditions. In these conservative and at times hostile settings, Merab must connect with his inner wants and desires and find the courage to break free.
While telling a love story between two young men and the complicated aspects of their romance, filmmaker Levan Akin has chosen the two playgrounds of his story carefully and effectively. The old-world pride and values in the arena of dance pushing against that planet where young hearts fall in love, find the courage and the wings to rise above.
Akin’s Georgia is full of vibrant colors, a big heart with love and loyalty found among family and friends. The filmmaker does not point a finger at social injustice or inequality. He allows his lead characters to navigate their unique path of love, commitment to family, art, work, and traditions.
It is impossible not to connect with Merab, played by newcomer Levan Gelbakhiani who gives a confident, soulful performance that among many things reminds us to be unapologetic about who and how we love. Gelbakhiani is definitely a rising star to put on the radar. The presence of this actor is a gift to its production and filmmaker Akin clearly noticed something in the early stages of casting as he pursued Gelbakhiani repeatedly for this part. Just like our own Timothée Chalamet, or German actor, Louis Hofmann, the best of this thespian is yet to come.
The new dancer, Irakli joining the company, is how the filmmaker brings the heat, and the trouble to Merab’s door. The casting of actor Bachi Valishvili in the role of the carefree, attractive competition is a bit of a secret sauce in this film, and in creating the character, Valishvili is a delight to watch.
On an international stage, AND THEN WE DANCED has been received with open arms and praise, winning multiple awards at major film festivals, including, both, Best International Feature and The Audience Award at the Chicago International Film Festival, the Audience Award at NewFest, NY, and Best Actor prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival, to name a few.
At Brave New Hollywood, we highly recommend seeing this meaningful, triumphant film. We also believe that it was important to publish filmmaker, Levan Akin’s statement below.
In Georgia there are three things that are upheld as the paragon of Georgian Tradition and National Identity: the Church, the traditional polyphonic singing, and the traditional national dance.
The lead person I follow in the film actually shares the same name as me, his name is Levan and he is a dancer, I too used to dance when I was younger and I imagined being him in an alternate reality. I interviewed a lot of dancers and they all told me stories of how gender conservative and strict the Georgian Dance scene was. So I decided to set the story in this setting. The Georgian Dance would represent the “old” and the burgeoning love between two of the dancers would represent the new.
With this film I find myself really going back to my roots as a filmmaker, working in an organic way, where the real lives of the people in the film and what’s going on in Georgia now affects the story. It is ever evolving. Telling the story of young LGBT+ people and their struggles on a smaller scale but also showing the history and situation of Georgia today on a larger scale. This film will not only be a very interesting look into a part of the world not so many people are familiar with but also a heartfelt movie about the importance of being free.
AND THEN WE DANCED is currently playing in New York. See it in Los Angeles, opening on Friday, February 14, 2020.
Below, watch the official trailer for AND THEN WE DANCED, distributed by Music Box Films.