Arts, Culture & Media

Russian-Georgian conflict goes Hollywood

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Andy Garcia as Georgian President Saakashvili (Photo: Irakli Gedenidze/AFP/Getty Images)

Story by Carol Hills, "The World"

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Hollywood has come to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.  Director Renny Harlin, whose previous films include “Die Hard 2″ and “Cliffhanger,” is in Georgia filming scenes for a new movie.  Andy Garcia plays the leading role.  The subject?  It’s something that’s still very raw for many Georgians and Russians.  It’s about last year’s conflict between those two countries over the region of South Ossetia. 

The intention of the filmmakers seems to be vintage Hollywood.

"I think our main concern was just to kind of show war as a bad thing," says George Lasku, the producer of the film, whose working title is “Georgia.”

"You know, there’s a lot of wars going on and this one  kind of landed on us, and we had an opportunity to really make an anti-war film, and that’s, I think really our primary goal."

But, we’re talking about Russia and Georgia.  These two countries loathe one another, and last summer’s conflict was serious. More than 850 people were killed in just 9 days.  So the “war is bad, let’s just all get along” approach may not work for everyone.  The film tells the story of a British journalist and a cameraman who get caught up in the dramatic events of last summer.

Andy Garcia plays Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.  The real president Saakashvili has given the filmmakers extraordinary access.  He loaned Andy Garcia his own office and let the crew shoot scenes at the presidential palace.  He even loaned them helicopters, fighter planes and tanks to recreate the war.  The Russian media has noticed. 

The movie’s just the latest opportunity for sniping between Russia and Georgia.  That’s according to Monica Duffy Toft, a Georgia expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

"I think it’s fodder for the duking it out, the continued duking it out between Russia and Georgia on this war, that happened last year, and who’s to blame and who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy."

Just six months ago, the Georgian entry for the Eurovision Song Contest ran into trouble.  The disco-flavored tune, called “We Don’t Wanna Put In”  was a thinly-veiled dig at Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

You may not hear the dissing clearly but the Russians sure did and the song was withdrawn from the contest.  Russia is often perceived as the big bully on the block in central Europe.  And initial media accounts of last year’s war between Russia and Georgia went with the David and Goliath theme.  But that changed after the conflict and the latest report, issued last month by the European Union, puts  the blame for starting the war squarely on Georgia.  It does add though that both countries share responsibility for escalating the violence.  

Can a film made in Georgia with official Georgian support be objective?  Papuna Davitaia thinks so.  He’s a former filmmaker who is now a member of the Georgian parliament -- from Saakashvili’s party by the way --  but he’s taking a break from government work to be a co-producer on the film. .

"I would not say that it shows only one side.  It is not propaganda movie.  It is from very objective point of view."

We will see.  This is a Hollywood film after all, so it’s hardly expected to be terribly true to real events.   But maybe this is just Georgia’s turn.   Last year, only seven months after the conflict, Russia released a state-financed action film, “Olympius Inferno” that featured an American scientist who finds himself caught up in the war.  That film blamed Georgia for the conflict.  This new movie may give Tbilisi a chance to even the score.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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