The post-Soviet city where dance is political
TECHNO-PROTESTS: A dancing protest and its growth and fall in front of the Georgia parliament.
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A documentary about club life i Georgia, Raving Riot had the premiere of a crowded 1500 seat auditorium during this year's Beat Film Festival in Moscow. The energetic flourishing of a young, creative viewing scene in the former Soviet Republic's capital, Tbilisi, has put the city on the map for people all over the world, and despite existing geopolitical tensions, Russia is no exception. But that was not the only thing that attracted Mosquitoes Raving Riot, the directorial debut to Stepan Polivanov, produced by the well-established independent collective Stereotactic in Moscow. The film centers on police raids against Tbilisi's biggest club, Bassiani, in May 2018, which prompted thousands to protest in front of Georgia's parliament by dancing in defiance of thunderous techno. This has parallels to an August 2017 raid against Rabitza, a DIY techno club in Moscow, where police also carried out harsh arrests of guests and staff. But rather than respond with collective resistance, Rabitza simply shut down - and the Mosquitoes wanted to see what it was in the situation in Georgia that made a public resistance wave possible.
Raving Riot spans several parts. The first is about the emergence of club culture in Georgia against the very different backdrop to a conservative and not particularly urbanized society (footage from the countryside highlights the divergent techno-culture, which is usually associated with industry but flourishing here). Much of the film was shot at night. A subset of the young generation has made the hours after sunset their playground where they can express themselves freely and with time to talk to each other ("the day is for people who are scared", says one of the clubgoers). Polivanov found many of his protagonists on Tinder, and his loosely impressionistic style, where he mingles with groups of random friends in parking lots and clubs, clinging to the impression of laid-back, hedonistic outings. These scenes could have been reminiscences of Michael Marczak's feverish portrait of youth in Warsaw, All These Sleepless Nights - had it not been for the politically charged intensity that bursts through. "We're just so lost," says one of the party members. Escapism from the nihilism of the social tensions is an undercurrent that drives the evening's restlessness without a definite beginning or end.
Then the film focuses on police action and demonstrations on May 12, using archival footage showing the clash between authorities and club gangs as it evolved, with a darker mood the other day, as counter-protesters from the far right came and threatened violence. While the film does an admirable job of portraying the youthful environment, the political context is thin (one gets the feeling that the film was completed a bit quickly to get it out quickly), and those who are not informed of the events in advance can struggling to get hold of the deeper roots of the confrontation.
The restlessness is driven by an undercurrent of escapism from the social tensions
Also, there are more flammable and controversial aspects of the split between conservative and progressive forces in Georgia that have been left out or treated with harlab, namely the Russian funding of groups on the far right (which for a Russian production company may have been too sensitive to go any further into), the strong influence of the Orthodox Church, Bassian's connection with special activist groups for the decriminalization of drugs (the White Noise Movement, which fights against Georgia's draconian laws and very severe prison sentences for drug offenses), and LGBT rights (the important role of Bassiani) plays as a safe haven for minorities, is pushed aside). Stereotactic's typical fondness for the impressionist rather than the dry journalist has its strength in creating a stylish atmosphere, but when the political interests are so significant and the relationship between the main players so complicated, one should not underestimate the value of giving the spectators a better understanding of the actual conditions.
The Raving Riot doing particularly well is that it ends with an ambiguity that does justice to the mixed outcomes of the demonstrations. While the Western press has often drawn a picture of the very news-photogenic protests in front of parliament as an undoubted victory for progressive values and as a loud sign that there is no turning back from increased social tolerance, the reality is that activist groups were severely divided afterwards. Dealers from Bassiani and the surrounding area had succumbed to pressure from the government to send protesters home, having been told that they would otherwise be held responsible for any use of violence, and having received promises that drug reform requirements would be met. admitted to treatment. The film shows archival footage of Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia apologizing in front of a crowd cheering him on, and it explains how activists became aware that the state had cynically succeeded in playing them over the sidelines. In one of the most memorable sequences in Raving Riot it is a youth who disillusioned that the protests did not lead to anything. But as he repeats the protest in front of the camera, he remembers throwing water on the warm, dancing crowd, and the joy of freedom and community he knew - and we get a sense that life's expression defies its failure to remove systematic oppression. , showed what was possible, if only for a moment, and that could be it again.