Levan Akin • Director of And Then We Danced
“When it takes some four years to make a film, it needs to mean something”
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2019: With And Then We Danced, Swedish-Georgian director Levan Akin takes on his Eastern European roots with a vengeance
Born in Sweden in 1979 to Georgians from Turkey, educated at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and serving as an intern at Roy Andersson’s Stockholm studio: these are all assorted tiles in the mosaic that has become director Levan Akin – he calls it part mishmash, part superpower. His 2011 debut feature, Certain People, played at the Tribeca Film Festival, and his follow-up, The Circle [+see also:
film profile], produced by Benny Andersson of ABBA, opened at Berlin in 2015. With his third feature, And Then We Danced [+see also:
interview: Levan Akin
film profile], Akin is making his debut both in his Georgian tongue and at the Cannes Film Festival, as the film has premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section.
Cineuropa: Your home country is Sweden, where you also mainly work. What made you want to make this film in Georgia – and in Georgian?
Levan Akin: I watched a news clip in 2013 where some 40-50 young people had decided to do a pride parade in Tbilisi. There was also a counter-demonstration by the Orthodox Church with the probable aid of some Russian connections – the clip showed thousands of these “protesters”. The paraders hid in a little bus, which was literally torn apart by the mob. It looked like a proper zombie movie. I’m a sensitive soul and a devoted vegan who even feels bad about flying to Cannes because of the fossil fuels, and I feel lousy when I read about the extinction of the rhinoceros in Africa. I feel like my work needs to be more than just a fun ride. When it takes some four years to make a film, it needs to mean something. I don’t know enough about the rhinoceros yet, but I know Georgia. So I went.
The theme of the Georgian dancing tradition makes for an interesting dynamic. On one hand, it’s quite an emblem of Eastern European alpha-masculinity, and on the other, it’s decidedly un-masculine, possibly with queer connotations.
It’s a perfect paradox, which is incredibly interesting. And it made the story very easy to put together. We have a young guy, a gifted dancer, who starts to explore his feelings, his sexuality and, ultimately, love – for another guy. It all just fell into place.
And Then We Danced is Swedish-Georgian with a French co-production. How did the Georgian authorities react to the dancing getting such a central position? Did they support your choice to put this culture up on the international big screen?
Well, sadly not. Officially, the Georgian government is all “pro-West”, with EU financial support and all, but they haven’t helped us one single bit. In effect, we shot the film guerrilla-style. Rumours about some of our themes got out, and we received threats and decided to get bodyguards. Had they really known what we shot, we would have been thrown out! But we did it, and it was very rewarding. I met some wonderful people along the way.
Will it open in Georgia?
We don’t know yet. It’s got a lot of attention so far; it’s something like the fifth film ever from Georgia to be shown at Cannes. So they don’t know what to do, really; they have a hot potato on their hands. I’m sure Russia sees it as a piece of “EU propaganda”. It’s damned interesting and political as hell. They are actually calling me Satan on some of the Georgian social media. So I must have done something right!
You certainly must. Should the headline of this piece perhaps be “They call me Satan”?
Oh, my mother wouldn’t like that. She might start worrying about some crazy Orthodox priest trying to strangle me.
Let’s hope not. We need to see your rhinoceros film.
With pleasure – and with Sigourney Weaver in the lead.
Do you have any English-language plans?
There’s a nice thing in development starring two American multi-Oscar nominees whom I won’t name just yet. I just need to get the script a bit more perfect... When it is, I’m on. But I won’t be jumping on the first chance to do some episode of some series just because it’s in English.
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