DISSENT: Since its May 2018 police raid, Bassiani, Tbilisi’s largest nightclub, has become a symbol of defiance in the face of social conservatism.
Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: June 12, 2019

A documentary about clubbing in Georgia, Raving Riot, premiered to an entirely sold out, 1,500-seat auditorium of filmgoers at Beat Film Festival in Moscow this month. The vibrant flourishing of a young creative scene in the former Soviet nation’s capital, Tbilisi, has made the city in vogue around the world, and in spite of ongoing geopolitical tensions, Russia is no exception. But that’s not all that drew Muscovites to Raving Riot, the directing debut of Stepan Polivanov, produced by well-established independent Moscow collective Stereotactic. The film centres on the May 2018 police raids on Tbilisi’s biggest club, Bassiani, prompting thousands to protest in front of Georgia’s parliament, dancing in defiance to blasting techno music. This has parallels to an August 2017 raid on Rabitza, a DIY techno club in Moscow, where police also made heavy-handed arrests of partygoers and staff. But rather than sparking a response of collective resistance, Rabitza simply closed down — and Muscovites wanted to see what was so different in Georgia’s situation that made a public rave of resistance possible.

Evening abandon

Raving Riot unfolds over several chapters. The first ones set out the rise of clubbing culture in Georgia against the incongruous backdrop of a conservative, not highly urbanised society (footage of the countryside plays up the anomalous nature of techno, usually so connected with industry, thriving there). Much of the film was shot at night. A subset of the young generation have made the hours after sundown their playground of free expression and time to commune with one another («day is for people who are scared», says one clubber). Polivanov found many of his protagonists through Tinder, and his loosely impressionistic style, tagging along with groups of random friends through carparks and clubs, suits the feel of sprawling, hedonistic nights out. These scenes might be reminiscent of Michal Marczak’s fever-haze portrait of Warsaw youth All These Sleepless Nights — were it not for the politically charged intensity piercing through. «We are just so lost,» says one partygoer, escapism from the nihilism of social tensions an undercurrent that drives the abandon of evenings without defined beginning or end.

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