Georgia and Russia resume hostilities – on the big screen

Rival productions offer very different accounts of 2008 military conflict

Shaun Walker
Tuesday 13 March 2012 01:00

Since military hostilities between Georgia and Russia ceased in August 2008, the battle between the two nations has been continued on the big screen with both sides backing films that are high on patriotism and low on nuance. The latest salvo is a Kremlin-funded film called August 8th, referencing the date on which the 2008 war started.

The big-budget film is laden with special effects and features brave Russian soldiers dodging bullets from black-masked Georgian aggressors, using a narrative of the war very much in line with Russia's official stance. President Dmitry Medvedev, who is played by an actor in the film, praised its storyline and said it had a "very important mission to tell the truth".

The film could not be more different from a Hollywood movie released last year entitled Five Days of War that was directed by Renny Harlin, who made the Die Hard films. That film starred Andy Garcia as the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and presented an equally one-sided account of the war, involving bloodthirsty Russian soldiers who shot on sight, at one point attacking a wedding party. Izvestia newspaper called August 8th "a symmetrical response to Hollywood". Relations between Russia and Georgia have not recovered from the five-day war, which began when Georgia launched an assault on its unruly breakaway province of South Ossetia. Russia responded by repelling the Georgian attack and invading Georgia.

In the aftermath of the war, Moscow recognised South Ossetia and another separatist Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent states. Almost no other countries have followed suit and Georgia refers to the two regions as under occupation by Russian forces.

An EU report into the origins of the war placed the blame on both sides, finding that Georgia was responsible for the initial attack, but that it came against a background of long-term Russian baiting and provocations. Russia and Georgia chose to ignore the parts of the report that criticised them and both claimed that it vindicated their own differing narratives of how the war started.

It seems that both sides have decided that the big screen is one of the best places to parade these narratives. The latest Russian offering is slicker than the Kremlin's first attempt, a television drama made for Russia's state-run television in 2009. In that film, entitled Olympius Inferno, the Georgian army was portrayed as shooting innocent civilians in the back while being commanded in the field by US generals. The film also rehashed all the Kremlin's fury at supposed biased media coverage of the war – when the lead character in the film accidentally records video footage proving Georgia started the war, the Western media collaborates with the Georgian government to destroy the tapes.

The new film is not quite as blunt, but still portrays a one-sided account of the war. It is being shown on about 1,500 screens in Russia and its release comes as the two countries are engaging in a fresh round of diplomatic slanging. In recent weeks, Mr Saakashvili announced that he was immediately annulling visas for all Russians wanting to visit Georgia and called on Russia to make the same move for Georgians.

Yesterday the Russian Foreign Ministry took to Twitter, calling the statements "a mere pretence of peacefulness".

The ministry also referred to Mr Saakashvili's "paranoid hostility and megalomania".

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