Hundreds of homophobic protestors swarmed the cinema at the Georgian premiere of the Swedish-Georgian film And Then We Danced, a gay ballet drama which is among the list of eligible films for Best International Feature category at the 92nd Academy Awards.
The film, which centers around a romance between two male ballet dancers, opened in six Georgian cinemas on Friday and was met by protestors who attacked filmgoers, attempted to storm the cinema, and confronted riot police deployed to protect the venue.
Ana Subeliani, a local journalist and LGBTQ+ rights activist was among those injured during the protest after being hit with a stone. Images of Subeliani bleeding inside of an ambulance have circulated on social media.
Tensions began rising ahead of the premiere as the Georgian Orthodox Church and the country’s ultra-conservative groups described the film as “revolting” and called for the screenings to be called off. They pledged to disrupt the showings and turn the projectors off by force if necessary.
“It is absurd that people who bought tickets need to be brave and risk getting harassed or even assaulted just for going to see a film,” wrote Levan Akin, the film’s director in a Facebook post. “I made this film with love and compassion. It is my love letter to Georgia and to my heritage. With this story I wanted to reclaim and redefine Georgian culture to include all not just some.”
“But unfortunately these are the dark times we live in and the pending protests just proves how vital it is to stand up against these shadowy forces in any way we can.”
In a statement before the premiere, Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said it would “ensure the protection of public safety and order, as well as the freedom of self-expression. We address everyone: obey the law. Otherwise, police will use their lawful mandate and suppress unlawful acts immediately.”
The cinema let ticketholders inside for the evening premiere and then shut the doors. According to an outlet protestors who gathered outside chanted “Long live Georgia!” and “Shame!” before burning a pride flag while several Orthodox priests recited prayers. Two police officers and Subeliani were injured and more than 25 people were arrested for trying to force their way into the cinema.
And Then We Danced has garnered critical acclaim following it’s worldwide premiere at the Cannes Film festival in May and has been called “one of the best gay films in this year’s Oscar race.”