The August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia was fought at sea, in the air, on land … and in the press, as both sides tried to spin events in their favor. The shooting has ended. The propaganda war continues.
On Aug. 19, Georgia fired potentially its most powerful information broadside: the U.S. debut of Five Days of War. Directed by Renny Harlin of Die Hard 2 fame, it's an action film dramatizing the conflict in a manner decidedly sympathetic to the Georgians. Hardly surprising, as Five Days of War was financed in part by Tbilisi.
To make the $12-million flick - "an intriguing sampling of nationalist cinema," according to one review - Harlin drew on a Georgian government fund and an eager U.S.-trained Georgian army. "We were able to make a very good financial deal with them where we could rent this equipment," Harlin told movie gossip site Aintitcoolnews. "In our biggest scene we had 80 tanks, we had six fighter jets, we had eight helicopters, we had 2,500 troops."
"It was surreal to be standing on a hill with the head of the air force and land force and somebody else next to me with like three walkie-talkies and an army of translators," Harlin added, "and me trying to figure out like, ‘Okay, in this scene how long does it take for the tanks to come over the hill? When do I start the troops? When do I cue the actors? When do I roll the cameras? When do I call for the helicopters?'"
Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili invited Harlin to shoot in his office. Saakashvili even did a little casting. "We asked him, ‘Who do you think should play you in the movie?'" Harlin recalled. "[Saakashvili] said, ‘Well my favorite actor is Andy Garcia.'" Sure enough, the Cuban-American Garcia got the role.
Spoiler alert: Harlin's take on the war reflects the Georgian point of view. "They were doing, economically, great," Harlin said of the Georgians. "America built an oil pipeline across the country, and everything was really hunky-dory. Then [Russian president Vladimir] Putin just had enough of this and decided to stop it from happening and started destabilizing the country."
Film critic Roger Ebert was unimpressed. "Here you will hear a great deal about the war, but learn not so very much, and all of that from the Georgian point of view," Ebert wrote. "Mind you, I'm not saying its POV is wrong, only that a cheesy war thriller financed with Georgian funds seems an odd way to publicize it."
Aintitcoolnews was less circumspect. "It's great that you made a film again in the current day where we are allowed to hate Russians, like we used to in the '80s," the interviewer told Harlin.