In James Eames’ pertinent documentary, the rumbles of a revolution begin to reverberate. It begins in the subdued streets of Tbilisi, where a quiet game of hide-and-seek is being played. The hiders are a small group of LGBTQIA+ activists, bravely organising the first public Pride march on Georgian soil. Meanwhile, the seekers are counter-demonstrators: far-right groups who prowl the streets in an attempt to intimidate. For the seekers, this is a game of outmaneuvering an opponent; but for the hiders, it is a potentially fatal fight for dignity.
As a prime contextualisation of Levan Akin’s much-adored And Then We Danced, March For Dignity is a compelling documentation of LGBTQIA+ Georgians attempting to instigate queer socio-political change. Charting their traumatic, exhausting but ultimately life-affirming efforts, Eames follows the activists in the weeks preceding the scheduled Pride march. Navigating the streets of Tbilisi, March For Dignity aims to unveil the reality of what it is to simultaneously be queer and Georgian.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of March For Dignity is the inclusion of both queer and anti-LGBTQIA+ voices side-by-side. The film orchestrates an internal dialogue of talking-heads to create a conversation between the opposing groups. Although keen to include a range of perspectives, it is clear Eames only has an allegiance to the queer activists. It is almost unbelievable how Eames’ camera manages to infiltrate the ranks of anti-LGBTQIA+ protests, speaking directly to the engrained conservatism that is entrenched within, but not innate to, Georgian society.
Finding Georgia at a fork in the road, the film navigates the choice between reverting to Russian influence with an anti-LGBTQIA+ stance or appearing pro-western and moving towards international human rights laws from the European Union (EU). Embedded in this Georgian zeitgeist, March For Dignity exhibits the visceral urgency of this unfolding story.
The pervasiveness of homophobia has repeatedly prevented public Pride marches in Georgia. The self-actualisation of the Tbilisi Pride co-founders’ – Giorgi Tabagari, Tamaz Soshashvili, Mariam Kvaratskheila, and Mariam Geladze – unfolds on camera as they reflect on their own identity as queer Georgians. Some of these individuals were at the first attempted LGBTQIA+ Pride march on May 17th 2013. The traumatic memory of twenty-thousand counter-protesters attacking the handful of activists in 2013 continues to haunt their plans for 2019. Eames’ careful and considerate approach allows for individuals to simultaneously be open in moments of vulnerability while establishing firm boundaries as the lives of these individuals continue in Georgia once the cameras cut. Yet, the intimacy Eames still manages to achieve warrants merit.
The observational camera is granted access to even the small practicalities of Pride organisation. From hand-drawn signs to rainbow flags secured with tape, the resourceful nature of Tbilisi Pride embodies the essence of what it is to be queer: innovation against restriction and unapologetic boldness when it comes to creative authenticity. Ultimately, March For Dignity is powerful beyond the cinematic space, showing that queer collectivism is poignant on any scale and that the pride of visibility is multiplied when shared. Tbilisi activists are hopeful that their collective will grow, with Tabagari proposing: “In 10 years time, we need to have thousands of people marching in the streets of Tbilisi.”
A central, unspoken force that pervades March For Dignity is the geopolitics attached to claims of queer universality. In the rowdy crowd of aggressors, one voice from the counter-demonstration rings clear: “leave this country while you still can.” This is just one of the many insidious threats that the group face throughout the documentary. The sentiment of leaving Georgia for queer-accepting spaces is a possibility nearly all of the activists consider, but the social change they aim to instigate is happening on the ground and they need to be there for it. As Kvaratskheila puts it: “I have some things to finish here.” In specifically exploring Tbilisi Pride, March For Dignity is a dedicated reminder that every Pride has its own fight.
Combining the explicit demand for equality with the implicit need for visibility, March For Dignity captures a pinnacle moment of Georgia’s queer history. Resonating beyond the frame, the documentary radiates hopefulness from a small but proud group of queer Georgians. In the skies of Tbilisi flies a rainbow, high above the city, an emboldening promise that the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights is far from over.
Emily (she/her) is a freelance writer whose main focus is film. Originally from the flatlands of Norfolk in the UK, she is often found wearing oversized jumpers and cradling the biggest mug of tea she can find. Her bylines include Little White Lies, NME, The Quietus and she is a staff writer at Flip Screen. You can witness her sleep-deprived ramblings on Twitter: @EmMaskell