A transgender woman’s desire for freedom is in direct conflict with the traditional expectations of Georgian society where LGBTQ+ individuals are still the targets of abuse and physical violence, despite discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity being outlawed since 2014. Prisoner of Society focuses on the effect of being a transgender woman has on a Georgian family and how isolating oneself from that society is the only path to survival. Rati Tsiteladze has created a documentary giving us insight into the reality hidden behind closed doors and shares with DN how he approaches bringing out raw emotion from this troubled family onscreen.
What inspired Prisoner of Society and how did you meet your protagonist?
Artistically, cinema has always fascinated me with its power of making a great impact on the successive generation of society. My goal as a filmmaker is to tell stories that I believe need to be heard and are important to discuss throughout the world. When Adelina shared her story with me I knew immediately that I had to make this film regardless of the cost.
I met Adelina when she approached me through social media, in a way I’d say the story found me. I was profoundly touched by her life, but what has struck me the most was the fact that she spent more than a decade of her life locked up at home, isolated from society. Initially, my intention was to focus on her individual voice as a means of orchestrating the collective experience of her feelings, but when I met her parents, I realized that I could not tell the story without them.
My goal as a filmmaker is to tell stories that I believe need to be heard and are important to discuss throughout the world.
How did you make this family feel safe enough to open up to you and how do you approach asking questions when the topic of conversation is so personal and intimate?
I was surprised myself as the members of family displayed a great trust and shared their inner hopes, fears and motives with me, which I believe was a very brave step from their side because their trust was crucial – their very existence depends on it.
I am a former martial artist and throughout the years I have been invited to appear on different TV shows, including Dancing with the Stars. It turned out that the family already knew me from television and newspapers. When Adelina’s mother saw me for the first time, she hugged me and started crying, telling me that she could never imagine that I would be interested in their lives. She showed me warmth and trust from the moment we met.
With regards to her father, he was a wrestler in his youth so he had great respect for me as a former World and European Champion. I started a conversation about sports with him before trying to discover the much wider spectrum of his feelings with more personal and intimate questions.
Indeed, the film is shot in the family apartment which is extremely small and claustrophobic, where the curtains are always closed and the door is always locked. This is the place where Adelina spent the most beautiful years of her life and the place which strongly reflects her inner world. I think my decision to leave the family alone in front of the camera really paid off. This is the most crucial moment in the film, when they have to listen to each other, to themselves, even to the moments of silence, and the camera in a way becomes a mirror that reflects their feelings.
I’ve always believed that being a parent is being able to love unconditionally. The depth of the love of parents for their children cannot be measured. It exceeds concern for life itself… But there are times when even the purest love is tested to its limits and when the ability of listening is essential for survival… and eventually, listening becomes an act of love.
I must say I’m extremely happy and honoured that the film was nominated for the European Film Academy Award, and has been awarded at the different festivals around the world and is qualified for the OSCARS® – it means that the story not only touched my heart but the hearts of many people in different parts of the world.
Did you screen Prisoner of Society in Georgia and if so, how was it received? At what rate do you feel Georgian society is becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community?
I gave my word to Adelina’s mother that I won’t screen the film in Georgia…
With regards to acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, I think in every developing country it has a similar path. It’s progressing… in some countries, it is progressing faster than the others but despite its complexity, it is progressing.
The story not only touched my heart but the hearts of many people in different parts of the world.
How do you know when you have a documentary project worthy of pursuing?
I think, whether it is a documentary or fiction, it is like falling in love. You feel it with your entire being and you know that it is the story that must be told.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Currently, I’m working on my feature film The Empty House with my artistic collaborator, Nino Varsimashvili. The story is set in Georgia during the dark and chaotic time of the early 90s and follows a 12-year-old girl who dreams of having a complete family but finds herself caught in a whirlpool of conflicting emotions when, after seven years of absence, her father returns from prison. The project was selected at the Cannes Cinéfondation Residence, Berlinale Co-Production Market (TPM) and won the Eurimages Award at TIFF, the Special Mention at Locarno and the first Residency Award by HFPA Golden Globes®.