Saturday, March 16, 2024

First Look ’24: Limitation

There is a reason Putin thought he could get away with invading Ukraine. It is because Russia already got away with sabotaging a democratically elected government in Georgia. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected Georgia’s first president with 87% of the vote. Less than a year later, he was toppled in a coup orchestrated by former Communists and street thugs. Filmmakers Elene Asatiani and Soso Dumbadze show it going down in real-time, through primary video sources foraged from the internet in the documentary, Limitation, which screens during this year’s First Look.

It starts out triumphant and full of hope, as Gamsakhurdia’s campaign smoothly segues into a victory lap. Yet, simultaneously, the anti-democratic elements immediately started demonstrating on the streets, with a vehemence that quickly crossed over into violence. Western critics argued Gamsakhurdia’s nationalist rhetoric was not sufficiently inclusive towards non-ethnic Georgian minorities, but you do not hear any such arguments from the Russian-backed coup-instigators.

Eventually, Gamsakhurdia and his supporters barricade themselves in a government building, eerily paralleling the 1993 Russian coup attempt, but the results were different. All the footage was apparently recorded by eye-witnesses and bystanders, but two clips feature “behind-the-scenes” footage of Western journalists, recorded by third parties, rather than their camera crews. ABC’s Sheila Kast gets credit for asking the putsch-promoters a tough question, but Christiane Amanpour largely peppers Gamsakhurdia with “your-detractors-charge-you-with-this” style questions, basically recycling their propaganda.

Perhaps viewers could find all the clips incorporated in
Limitation on YouTube, but most Westerners would have trouble sleuthing out the necessary search terms. Of course, the English subtitling will also help a lot, Asatiani and Dumbadze also label whether the source was for or against the Gamsakhurdia government.

Limitation produces an eerie sensation of just how closely history parallels and repeats itself. What happened after the Gamsakhurdia government fell? Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet Foreign Minister, rose to power, allowing corruption to flourish, until he was ousted by the Rose Revolution. There are no smoking guns in Limitation proving Russia’s involvement, but the footage very definitely presents the coup as a profoundly undemocratic but highly coordinated insurrection. Recommended as an eye-opening cinematic document, Limitation screens tomorrow (3/17) as part of First Look.