In the non-fiction selection of this year‘s film festival in Melbourne, the standouts included two economic miniatures, which take a bold, empathetic and vivid approach to LGBTI subjects.
Rosie Haber and Lauren Cioffi/Rati Tsiteladze
Lauren Cioffi/Rati TsiteladzeNino Varsimashvili
Of all the world’s myriad prizes for short films, few can boast a roll of honour more impressive than the Grand Prix of the Melbourne International Film Festival, first awarded back in 1965 – when MIFF (as it is acronymically known), founded in 1952 – was already more than a decade old. Grand Prix recipients down the years have included Werner Herzog, Louis Malle, Norman McLaren, City of God duo Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, Denis Villeneuve, B.S. Johnson and Su Friedrich. Commendably, the festival makes no category distinction in terms of eligibility: any short shown in any section, whether experimental, fiction or documentary is a contender for the top prize.
In the non-fiction selection this year the standouts included two economic miniatures which take a bold, empathetic and vivid approach to LGBTI subjects: Rati Tsiteladze’s Prisoner of Society, from Georgia, and House of JXN by American duo Rosie Haber and Lauren Cioffi. Running 16 and 9 minutes apiece, these films – like many of the best documentaries past or present – provide a small but illuminating window into hidden, under-chronicled corners of the world. The two films take a sympathetic approach to protagonists who, by sheer accident of birth, have had to deal with nightmarishly difficult circumstances that point up wider, prejudice-riddled patterns of severe social dysfunction.
Being transgender in Georgia
Tsiteladze’s background is a decidedly unusual one for any film-maker, the 30-year-old from the Black Sea resort of Batumi having won a world champion kickboxing (WK1 class) title in Egypt a decade ago before later achieving considerable distinction in karate. The sometime male model – whose steamy beefcake photos enjoy considerable online popularity – quit martial arts in 2010 to pursue a new career in film as an actor and director (in 2014 he took time out to compete in the Georgian equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing / Dancing With the Stars, finishing an eminently respectable fifth).
«Probably [the film] won’t be shown in Georgia.» – Rati Tsiteladze
So far his new path has paid considerable dividends. His fictional 2016 short Mother won awards at film festivals all over the world, and his followup Prisoner of Society looks set for a similarly prize-garlanded career following its debut at the prestigious Tampere event in March. It was recognised by the jury as the festival’s nomination for the European Film Awards, to be decided at Berlin in December. The film is an intimate portrait of Adelina, a twentyish Georgian born male (as «George») but identifying as female (the film does not specify if she has yet has transition surgery). It also examines and hears the perspective of her conventional, middle-aged parents who have, as the opening titles state, effectively kept her «locked up» at home for ten years. Divided into four sections, the film focuses on each of the family members separately before bringing them together in the frame for the final segment.