Levan Atkin resorts to the taboo of homosexuality to confront tradition and modernity

Levan Akin, director for And Then We Danced, with his two protagonists: Ana (left) Javakishvili and Levan Gelbakhiani (right)

10/20/2019.- «The film itself is about young age». This is how Levan Akin, director of And Then WeDanced, defined his third feature film, the story of a dancer at Georgia’s National Dance Company who discovers his homosexuality in an environment in which this sexual orientation simply does not officially exist. The most you can expect is for it to go on unofficially as long as no one knows. For the Swedish filmmaker, setting  two gay young characters in the milieu of traditional Georgian dance provided the perfect framework to contrast the latter with the more open mindset of the younger generation: the Soviet mentality of the older generation versus the globalized culture of young people.

But the idea arose in any case  from real-life events. Akin, accompanied in his appearance before the press  by Ana Javakishvili (Mary, in the film) and Levan Gelbakhiani (Merab, the protagonist), reported that the harsh repression of  an attempted Gay Pride parade in Georgia in 2013 was the seed of the film. «I saw the news in Sweden, on television. The brave ones who tried to demonstrate were cracked down by groups organized by the Orthodox Church. I could not forget that episode, and in 2016 I went to Georgia to investigatw it», he explained.

Those 2013 images led to a 3-year documentary inquiry in order to faithfully reflect Tbilisi’s’ atmosphere and to understand the extent to which homosexuality is still a taboo in Georgia. Not only did the dance company whose  advice they sought turned them down at once, («they threw us out of their office when we told them what we wanted to do»), but they alerted other companies of the intentions of the film crew.

Levan Gelbakhiani illustrated these setbacks with another shooting anecdote: «Finally we found a dancer who was willing to help us as long as he remained anonymous; he does not even appear in the film credits because that would have made him lose his job».

And so, even though the film was shot in Georgia, the approach is clearly Swedish: «The foreigner’s perspective here is important. In fact, if I had lived in Georgia I wouldn’t have been able to make this movie. I wouldn’t even have found the means to do it», explained the director.

(Former) non-professional actors

The film’s lead actors, Levan Gelbakhiani and Ana Javakishvili,  are also well aware of the problems involved in shooting the film. Both are dancers, but their background is in contemporary dance. «Georgian dance has much sharper and faster turns than what we are used to performing: it’s a totally different style of dancing. In the case of men, the dances are highly masculine, so filming them required intense preparation in this regard», explained Gelbakhiani.

Levan Akin met both actors during the documentation phase. They had never been in front of a camera before. His namesake he found on Instagram, when he was simply searching for someone charismatic, and then discovered that he was a dancer as well; Ana Javakishvili, was cast after following an audition. «Seeing her was amazing, and it was a pleasure to work with her. The days we shot with Ana, I knew beforehand  would be easy days», said the director.

The feeling is reciprocal: «The experience was a challenge, but under the guidance of Levan Akin it became a lot easier», said the actress. As for Gelbakhiani, the latter highlighted the filmmaker’s ability to make even someone shy like him become integrated with the rest of cast and crew: «After three years of work and living together, we have become a small family».

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