"The Idea of Defiance is Universal' An Interview with And Then We Danced director Levan Akin
And Then We Dancedfollows ambitious dancer Merab in the traditional Georgian-dance Academy, as new arrival Irakli challenges his opportunity to join the National Ensemble. Directed by Levan Akin, the Swedish-French-Georgian co-production explores sexuality in a masculine, high-stakes environment with an incredible sense of craft, emotional reality and nuance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmjDLJ7dkHg I had the opportunity to talk to director Levan Akin about the film, hot off the heels of the film’s Best Feature win at the Iris Prize Film Festival in Cardiff. First of all, congratulations on the success of And Then We Danced, I’m sure its just the beginning of the recognition that this film is going to receive. You premiered at Director’s Fortnight in Cannes in May, and now Sweden have submitted the film for Best International Feature for the Oscars. Not to mention your UK premiere at London Film Festival and your Iris Prize win for Best Feature too. How are you navigating the response to the film? I’m barely keeping up to be frank. I’m very curious by nature so I think it is fun to meet people and communicate about the film but this last month has been very draining. Lots of travel. It’s interesting to see this place that we haven’t really seen on screen before, and particularly the world of Georgian dance. What is your connection to Georgia and Tbilisi that made you want to tell this story? My parents are Georgian so I used to spend the summers there as a kid. I love Georgia and it was really special for me to go back there and film. The heightened expectations of masculinity within Georgian dance echo that of the military. Do you think people are connecting with the film because everyone wrestles with defying expectations? Perhaps, we all have expectations on ourselves, from family and jobs etc. I think the idea of defiance is universal. To sort of tell everybody to **** off. I couldn’t help but notice the Georgian dance choreographer unnamed in the end credits of the film. This really emphasises the seriousness of what attaching yourself to a queer film could mean for him. Where did you shoot the film? What was the response from locations and the public over the content of the film? We shot on location in Tbilisi and it was very challenging in many ways. We would lose locations the night before we were supposed to film there. We received death threats and had to have bodyguards on set. But we were a very small team and we really guerrilla shot the film in many ways and we were fast at getting away. Stakes are high throughout the film — this is a family living on the poverty line and any misstep could mean losing everything. Was this a conscious decision in reflecting Georgia’s the social-economic situation or more to stress the responsibility on Merab’s shoulders as a provider for his family? I have always had class as a theme in my films. And in this case, it was also the everyday reality of the Georgians. Speaking of Merab — Levan Gelbakhiani delivers an incredible performance in the film, and I was shocked to find out this is his first acting role. Where did you find him? I found him on Instagram when I was doing interviews with young people in Tbilisi. We added each other on instagram and then the algorithm suggested him as a friend so something good came out of social media for once. Then my casting person suggested him too from another end and I was like “this is a sign”. We met and he inspired the film a lot. I think I would’ve made a different story had I not found him. The on-screen chemistry between Levan (Gelbakhiani) and Bachi (Valishvili) is palpable. I couldn’t help but notice that there isn’t really any quiet in the film — there is no private space for Merab and Irakli to hide and be together. Even their first intimate scene is outdoors where we can hear people in the background. Was this an artistic decision or more of a decision to accurately present what it would be like? Yes, very. There is no private space in Georgia which is a problem. Everybody is in everyone’s business. It can be charming like when a stranger helps correct Merab’s shirt collar on the bus but it is mostly very problematic. People live their lives knowing that everybody knows everything and it limits ones life a lot. Their first encounter doesn’t involve any kissing — this really struck me when watching the film for a number of reasons, including the notion in coming to terms with one’s own sexuality that kissing is a romantic entanglement rather than just a physical interaction. Can you speak about this decision? It would’ve been too intimate for them to do that at that point in their development. It is when Irakli acknowledges Merab after this first encounter that Merab feels comfortable to show emotions. I think the film articulates exploring sexuality and embracing your authentic identity in one of the most realistic ways I’ve seen on screen. How much of the character of Merab is you? Good question. I don’t know really, I think we are perhaps similar. But for me, the filming was a rumination of my own youth and how I will never really have those types of emotions ever again. First love. I had never thought about it really before diving into this film. How much changes the older one becomes. It’s like Ally Sheedy’s character says in The Breakfast Club. “When you grow old your heart dies”. How long was the process from your first draft to the first day of shooting? How difficult was it to acquire funding and support for the film? I would say 3 years. It was difficult, we had too little money for this film. Now I’ve tried to be vague so far to try not to spoil the film but I have to bring up the dance that Merab does for Irakli to ‘Honey’ by Robyn. Was it always going to be that song? Everything in that sequence from their chemistry, the movement and cinematography is simply stunning. The scene breaks down the barriers of masculinity in a playful and flirtatious way. Thank you. We were all listening to that song while filming and we tried doing the dance to that song and it worked amazingly. But it was something that happened in the moment and we caught it. You have two very long continuous tracking shots in the film that are perfectly executed. What was the rationale behind these? I wanted to convey the feeling many of us have felt when everybody around you is happy but you are dying of sorrow from the inside and you just want to get out. That’s why it is continuous. I never do shots just because they can be done or because they are intriguing. They need to have a narrative purpose. You mentioned in an interview earlier this year that you and Levan (Gelbakhiani) have both received hate messages on social media after the film. Does this reinforce the importance of films like And Then We Danced? Social media is fun in that sense, that you can get direct feedback from people. Your next project is set in Turkey and follows a character mentioned in And Then We Danced but we never see them. Will we get a chance to see Merab and Irakli again but in the location of Istanbul? And if not, would you be open to exploring these two characters again in the future? It is too early for me to know what will happen with the next film exactly. But perhaps I will revisit them in ten years? See where they are then? I hope so, I think everyone is going to want to see these two again! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Levan. Thank you! And Then We Danced from director Levan Akin is set to be distributed to UK cinemas by Peccadillo Pictures in March 2020. https://www.peccapics.com/product/and-then-we-danced/ https://www.instagram.com/andthenwedanced/ Interview by Lewis Bayley https://www.instagram.com/lew_bacca/ https://instagram.com/bournemouthfilmschool
From Banned Kenyan lesbian drama Rafiki to BAFTA nominated short Wren Boys. Looking back on Iris on the Move 2019
Iris on the Move's stop in Bournemouth at the Bournemouth Film School was an ambitious project from the jump. After organiser Lewis Bayley only met Iris Prize creator and festival director Berwyn Rowlands in November 2018, the festival events were set in motion immediately and were turned around in less than three months time.
Iris on the Move was picked to take place in February as part of National Student Pride and LGBT History Month 2019. The 4 day festival showcased countless short films from 2018's main Iris Prize festival, along with 2 feature films and a Bournemouth Film School showcase screening of it's best LGBT+ graduation films.
Behind the Scenes of 2016 BFS Graduation short 'Silver Studded Blue'.
The first day of the festival's events began with an open lecture with Dr Andrew Vallance and Clare Cahill, dubbed 'Queer Spaces', where the two academic staff discussed the concept of queerness and its history; including its most recent resurgence. The open talk was open for audience discussion and the participation of students and attendees really responded to the importance of reclaiming the term 'queer' to move away from binary box ticking of gender and sexuality.
The 'Queer Spaces' talk was followed by a Best of British showcase from the top 4 films of the 2018 iris Prize category. Half of the showcase were documentary shorts and the other two fictions. The winning film in Best of British at Iris Prize 2018 was BEYOND 'There's Always a Black Issue, Dear, a documentary from filmmaker and photographer Claire Lawrie, which explores the role of black British people in the LGBT+ movement, who have often been airbrushed from Queer history. The showcase also included the BAFTA nominated fiction Wren Boys, which follows an Irish priest and his nephew and they travel to a prison in Cork the day after Christmas.
The creators of Wren Boys, director Harry Lighton and producer Sorcha Bacon, gave a lengthy Q&A in two halves to attendees. Delving into their careers and future projects, advising students on breaking the industry and their creative process. Current final year students Daisy Leigh-Phippard and Anna K. McCallum conducted the Q&A segments, one to a larger audience in the main theatre and a follow up interview with a smaller select number of students.
The early evening of day one saw a curated programme of shorts exploring varied forms of Intimacy, including the TIFF award- winning short film Pre-Drink which sees the complication of a longtime friendship when the two friends, one gay man and one transwoman, decide to get intimate.
The opening night feature film screening of 1985 from director Yen Tan starred a stellar cast including Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen and Michael Chikilis. The 1980's based drama was shot on stark black and white film and follows a closeted gay man's return to his home town of Texas in the midst of AIDs epidemic.
Day 2 of Iris on the Move Bournemouth kicked off with a morning talk on submitting short films to film festivals with Iris Prize creator and festival director Berwyn Rowlands. The talk gave an insight into the submission, selection and programming process and advised final year students on their festival strategy for their upcoming graduation films.
Following Berwyn's talk a showcase of films curated under the theme of Gender & Family screened. This was the proceeded by the 'Youth' showcase which was curated by a group of young programmers. The screening included Mrs McCutcheon, an Australian drama following a young boy wanting to wear a dress to school. The colourful, heartwarming short film become an instant audience favourite at the festival.
Still from Mrs McCutcheon (dir. John Sheedy)
The festival discussion panel was made up of a diverse group of filmmakers. Dr Nick Bamford, a TV and Theatre producer and director, and author of Directing Television (2012). IndieWire Award-winning music composer Victoria Wijeratne, who has made a name for herself composing scores to a plethora of LGBT+ short films both fiction and documentary, and composer of feature film The Liability starring Jack O'Connell and Tim Roth. The third panel member is Bournemouth Film School graduate Ruby Parker-Harbord, whose graduation short film Missed Conceptions has gone on to be screened at a number of festivals in the UK and abroad - including Europe's largest LGBTQ+ Film Festival and BAFTA accredited festival BFI Flare in London. The chair for the panel was Iris Prize director Berwyn Rowlands who lead the discussion from asking the question 'what story do I tell?' through to the controversial issue of casting LGBT+ roles.
The final event of day two was a programme of LGBT+ Bournemouth Film School graduation films. The four film showcase included a poetic exploration of gender in Silver Studded Blue from director Niamh Farrelly, animated short The Queen's Tale by Sarah Horns and Nathalie Sandstad, real life inspired Missed Conceptions from one of our panelists Ruby Parker-Harbord and Bleach from director Jesse Lewis-Reece - which was nominated for Best British Short at the 2018 Iris Prize festival.
The final day of guest events began with an overall Best of Iris showcase, which included the best shorts from the previous two days with the addition of the Iris Prize winning film from 2018 - Three Centimetres. The other three films were Mrs McCutcheon, Wren Boys and Pre-Drink. The screening was followed immediately with a Q&A with Lara Zeidan, the writer and director Three Centimetres, who explained the making of the film and the two year journey from initial script to shooting. Our student interviewers Anna K. McCallum and Daisy Leigh-Phippard conducted the Q&A once again. (Their full interviews from Iris on the Move 2018 will be published in BUMF magazine later this year.)
The day ended with a busy evening screening of the controversially banned Kenyan lesbian drama Rafiki from Wanuri Kahiu. The screening coincided with the date of Kenya's high court decision announcement on repealing the 89 year old law criminalising same-sex relationships, however the decision was pushed back to May. Rafiki follows Kena and Ziki, two daughters of opposing political candidates, as they fall in love.
Still from Rafiki (2018) dir. Wanuri Kahiu
A drinks reception followed the screening of Rafiki where G&T's were served, courtesy of the festival sponsor Pink Pepper Gin at Audemus Spirits. The event topped off three days of exciting screenings, talks, guest visits and discussion.
The final day of the festival was 'Second Chance Saturday' which gave everyone chance to see their favourite showcases again or to catch up with any films they may have missed.