On Shooting May to May

I came to Georgia almost accidentally, on my way to one festival in Armenia, I arranged to visit some close friends that I studied with and that lived in Tbilisi.

As soon as I arrived I was invited to see a theatre show based on Vagina monologue. Something one would think is already a bit passé topic still was very controversial in Georgia. Performance was hidden, underground – organized by a group of activist and place of performance was not announced until couple of hours before the start- it was dangerous to play it – to vocalize word vagina on the stage, to talk of sexually so openly, of women’s sexuality – especially. Just before the start, backstage was literary shaking from the fear, but the moment the curtain opened – it was more than a performance – it was their life.

On third day of my ‘vacation’ a group of young feminists held a protest outside a clinic, which reportedly performs examinations in order to issue ”virginity certificates” for brides-to-be.

Besides all these intense proceedings one of the most discussed topic these days was an event that happened some months earlier – on 17th of May internationally recognized as International day against homophobia – when a group of young activist decided to hold a very small peaceful rally to acknowledge existence and rights of LGBT persons in Georgia. Only around 30 young people participated and were nearly massacred by a crowd of 40 000 raging counter- protesters led by priests of the Orthodox Church. At least 28 people were injured, with many trapped in buses and nearby shops and homes that were attacked by the protesters. Video footage shows that some of the police officers allowed Orthodox clergymen and other demonstrators to enter the barricaded area by opening the barricades and therefore encouraged the attack on LGBT activists

On my 5th day I took a camera and decided to shoot.

What to shoot, why to shoot?

I think this was my first unplanned documentary shooting, with a big help of my Georgian friends over the course of 10 days we made an interview with around 15 people that were involved in a rally, many of which were victims of the attack.

We also gathered big amount of video footage of the event from different independent media and press sources. No one we have contacted refused at be interviewed, and even though they were afraid to be exposed, they felt obliged to talk. Also great support came from independent media that provided video material – without a charge.

This is not a common practice for me, to shoot adhoc as I find very important to understand what is this story, emotion and space I am dealing with – what is in the world I am entering and how far from my own experience I am able to understand my protagonists. Making films for me are more about connection than presenting a catchy story. But this time there was no time to think, film came in a way naturally – people needed and wanted to talk, – feelings were still fresh and most of all there was this common need to understand what is really going on… from my side and theirs.

As the shooting was proceeding, I felt more and more that I need to continue, that there is something important to me personally even though I was not clear what exactly, I felt that it is a film will bring out questions that are impossible to answer, but indeed worth a try.

The Question

There are parts in the footage of the 17th of May that still after almost a year make me shiver –images off policemen opening barricades for the masses, people running towards the rally – running over each other – parents with their kids, priests, elderly – in strange delirium of the rage… throwing rocks, chairs, anything they could grab on – eager to fight – mad to hunt… but what for? Who are they hunting? Those 30 ‘kids’? Really?

Even though this whole story is actually highly politicized, and underneath one can dig up a political battle between the church, government and the media, that makes this event not so unexpected especially after very recant switch of government – looking at the footage of that day it is still hard to understand actions of those masses, that incredible power of collective hatred.

As one of my interviewees describes attack on the bus that was used for evacuation of the activists: “… So I thought OK, we are now safe, we are on the bus we are getting through, and then at this point the bus stopped I looked in front of me and I saw that we are surrounded by thousands people… … So they through huge stones and even poured holly water on the bus- to get the evil out of us…. there was so much concentrated hatred and violence in people and all the gestures were highly sexually charged… this was a moment when I came really close to being raped and killed….”

While conducting many of these interviews I thought – «How come those kids don’t leave Georgia after this experience?» I felt if it was me seeing faces of my own community, recognizing my neighbours, friends, family – on this -other side, I would most probably pack my bag and go- wherever, far, far away from them… from the madness…

Most of this activist are highly educated and some of them studied at top universities abroad and probably they could find possibilities to emigrate, to escape this all (some have already) . But the ones I met – they don’t consider that option – they choose to stay and continue there activities as well as face all the struggles that come with it – even more – all of them confirmed that they will try to hold a protest next year again.

As a filmmaker I feel sometimes privileged to be able to travel abroad a lot, and have a chance to move away from the problems and issues that living in Croatia carries. I find this necessary as very often I am overwhelmed by a feeling of defeat – lack of power to really change things. In my films and works that are dealing with Croatia I try to be reflect and to be critical of the situation but I often feel I its never enough and that feeling can be blocking. Leaving Croatia gives me much more freedom to express as well to reflect but it carries certain guilt – of not being present and directly involved.  I feel I am living in-between and not finding a satisfying solution. Through the process of making this film a question that I most often wondered about was  – where do these young people find a courage to keep on going when their battles seems endless?

I think the drama and the beauty of life is that perhaps there is not only one right answer to this question – maybe it is the search for an answer what really matters what keeps us going -however – not so long ago I met a Georgian poet and scholar in Berlin that perhaps gave me one possible solution.

Giorgi emigrated 16 years ago due to political and private reasons to Germany and build up a very nice social circle and comfortable life for himself. As a writer he stayed loud and vocal about political issues in Georgia. As we were discussing current situation there he told of his decision to move back, to return to his country. When I asked why – he told me:

”It took me 16 years to learn how to be free in Berlin, but I feel, if I really want to feel free I have to try, I need to learn to be free in Georgia.”

The New York Times reported the events of May17th 2013. Read the whole article here.


Maša Drndić

Artist, designer, cinematographer and documentary filmmaker. Resident in the Saari Residence maintained by Kone Foundation.!