Born into a family of traditional Georgian dancers, Merab’s (Levan Gelbakhiani) goal is to take his dancing career to heights unseen by his relatives. Men who practice the art form are often heralded for their strength and toughness, but Merab brings an unusual softness that is frown upon by his peers and instructors. In this queer coming-of-age story, And Then We Danced, old school mentalities surrounding masculinity within the conservative, Georgian culture are unearthed.

At the beginning of the film, we see with Merab practicing in the studio with his longtime dance partner, Mary (Ana Javakishvili). Right from the get-go, it’s made clear that he’s not living up to the rigid expectations laid out for him as he’s told to start the routine again. “There is no room for weakness in Georgian dance,” his teacher barks.

Determined to lose his whimsy in order to conform, Merab continues to practice, in class and on his downtime, in the hopes of earning a spot with the National Georgian Ensemble. He’s thrown for an unexpected tailspin when Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), a rival dancer, shows up to challenge him professionally and romantically. It is through this chance meeting that Merab learns to accept and understand the fullness of who he is.

A Levan Akin production, And Then We Danced has faced harsh criticism and protests from ultra-conservative and pro-Russian groups in Tbilisi and Batumi, Georgia. Tensions became so severe that, ahead of screening last November, police barricaded the perimeter of the theatre stopping ticket holders from entering. Despite their best efforts to thwart the film from being shown, all screenings eventually took place as originally scheduled.

This is a film that, at its core, is about self-love and bearing all the things that make you unique with pride. And Then We Danced has such a profoundly positive message that it should be shown across the globe and everyone should see it.

Saturday, February 15, 5 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox