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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

THE FILM FEST FOLLIES (or "why my jacket got ripped")

The 9th annual Tbilisi International Film Festival kicked off with a bang this year, and I mean “kicked” in the very literal sense.

Last week I went to see the new Bond flick, in English. Sometimes a Sunday night with a bucket of popcorn at the cinema is the perfect remedy for any ailment – all the more so if the film happens to be mindless, plotless garbage. Or in other words, in Tbilisi we take what we get, particularly if it hasn't been dubbed into Russian.

Once a year though, for one week, cinema lovers in Georgia can devour films which haven't come off the Hollywood assembly line. With this in mind, my lady and I hoofed it down to Amirani cinema theater to catch the opening night attraction, Atonement, by Englishman Joe Wright.

I was thrilled to see such a crowd in front of the cinema. The film fest organizers boast that one of their main aims is to expose the Georgian public to new trends in world cinema, and by the looks of it, a hundred people or so appeared to be hungry for exposure. But why were these people standing with their backs to the cinema? Why were they holding pictures of Georgia's first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and chanting “Georgia for Georgians?” More importantly, why were they physically preventing me from entering the cinema to watch a film?

A burly man shoved me away. His timing was bad, for my mood had been sour for a couple days. I pushed back only he was supported by a mob. Undeterred by their aggression and my lady's pleas to leave the crazy idiots alone, I took a few steps back and tried to make a break up the middle, like a fullback (or crazy idiot), shouting in English that I have a right to enter a cinema. The problem of course was that I was shouting at Zviadists, who at this moment smelled blood - mine – and like a horde of George Romero zombies, were determined to snuff my soul. The women were especially vicious as they kicked me and ripped my coat.

You see, the Zviadists are an informal cult of psychotic pseudo-fascist supports of Georgia's first democratically president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a soviet era dissident whose nationalistic policies basically turned Georgia into the mess it is in today (my Zviad story). Ousted in a coup in 1991 and found dead with a bullet hole in his head two years later, Gamsakhurdia is a martyr to a rabble of social flunkies led by his widow Manana. They simply refuse to let go and move on. While they have given up their daily protests in front of George Soros' Open Society building, they continue to gather in front of former president Eduard Shevardnadze's house and shout (Shevardnadze replaced Gamsakhurdia after the coup).

My jacket was torn in front of Amirani Cinema because the organizers of the festival refused to show a documentary film about Zviad Gamsakhurdia - not because of their opinions of the man, but of the film.

“First of all, we are not showing documentaries at this festival this year,” organizer Nino Anjaparidze said. “And secondly, it was a terrible film. But these people think we should be showing it on opening night.”

We had followed Nino and dozen other film lovers through the exit door on the side, which the Zviadists goons quickly blocked off.

“These people remind me of those Americans who believe Elvis is still alive somewhere,” said Zura, a man who slipped in with us. “One woman was shouting that the festival is showing pornography.”

The cops eventually got off their asses and set up a perimeter so festival goers could enter. The cinema was standing room only. As for the film, well, it started off really well but then got too full of itself and lost the plot, which ironically is exactly what happened to Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

(the man responsible for ripping my coat)