Here in Tbilisi, where I’ve come to attend a friend’s wedding, the city is filled with nervousness and excitement. A few days ago, the police sealed off Freedom Square and Rustavali Avenue, in the heart of the city, then an official government calvacade arrived, and president Saakashvili hurried to a podium and told the gathered crowds that the country was being occupied by enemy forces. “The forces of occupation are at our gates!” he cried.
Bemused tourists were sent scurrying back to their hotels to find out what the hell was going on, and if they should get the next plane out of there. Eventually, they discovered it wasn’t actually president Saakashvili, it was the Hollywood actor Andy Garcia, playing him in new film. And the cheering crowd at Liberty Square turned up, not to cheer Saakashvili, but simply to see a famous Hollywood actor.
Watch the scene here – I love the way the crowd cheer wildly when he says ‘the forces of occupation are at our gates’. Woo hoo! Andy Garcia!
Yes, barely has the dust settled on the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, barely has the EU released its official report into the war (which said that Georgia started it), than Hollywood has seen fit to produce its own version of events. The director is Remmy Harlin, whose previous work includes Die Hard 2.
He says: “I’ve waited a long time to find something with substance and reality. Even if only a few people see this and feel its impact and its anti-war message, then I will have done something important be proud of it.”
The film has financing from the Georgian National Film Board, and has the solid support of real president Misha Saakashvili, who has lent the crew his presidential palace to shoot key scenes, as well as some Georgian military equipment. Alas, though, the crew has had to turn to outside help – Russians – for their expertise in pyrotechnics. “So here we go again”, as one crew member put it. “Just like during the real war, the Russians are again the ones who are doing the explosions part.”
The Georgians I’ve spoken to are fairly bemused by the situation – Saakashvili is very unpopular here, and most people think, quite rightly, that the war was a disaster for Georgia. The country is now smaller, poorer, less attractive for foreign investors and far less likely to join NATO or the EU. Misha took a gamble by invading South Ossetia, and lost badly.
And you might think, if ever there was a poor choice for an anti-war hero, it is Saakashvili, who according to the EU kicked the war off in the first place, only to retreat into a position of craven victimhood when his army showed itself incapable of resisting the Red Army for more than a day. He’s not anti-war, he’s just very bad at it.
But what’s that to Hollywood? Some Georgians suspect there is US government money behind the project (there is US government money behind everything in Georgia), but I can’t find proof of that. But it would be a delicious irony if so: when Saakashvili most needed help, the US failed to send troops. Now, a few months later, they send…Andy Garcia. In Hollywood, there is always a happy ending.
I should add, by the way, that the Russians are just as dumb in their cinematic propaganda. The state-owned Channel One produced its own TV film of the war last year, just a few weeks after the war, and the Kremlin has since tried to sign up Emir Kusturica, the Serbian film-maker, to make an international film of the war. He refused, sensible fellow.