Hollywood star to play prez as PR war continues

fffNews enthusiasts across the globe saw the coming to power in 2003 of a young, energetic politician, Mikheil Saakashvili that would later be dubbed the “Rose Revolution,” as no blood was spilled as he took office. But there was another significant difference between this and many past revolutions – the role of the media was vividly pronounced. News was a major player in bringing the new government to power, as events were followed at every juncture and beamed into homes. The most popular television station at the time was today’s a pro-government channel Rustavi-2.

First Georgians watched how opposition groups united to protest the fraudulent elections, how they gathered people in the streets of Tbilisi for days on end and demanded former President Eduard Shevardnadze’s resignation. And later on when Shevardnadze refused to go, Saakashvili and his team traveled around Georgia to bring people to the protests. Rustavi-2 literally followed them step by step, keeping people informed. The real crescendo of this unfolding drama was when the audience sitting comfortably in front of their TV sets saw the opposition’s triumphal entrance into Tbilisi with tens of thousands of people demanding Shevardnadze’s resignation.

Saakashvili won, and so did Rustavi-2. Later after the war the channel proclaimed itself a “channel of winners.” It aligned itself with the idea of the revolution and the establishment of a new system of governance. The question that must then be asked is if TV networks such as Rustavi-2 play such an active and critical role in political life can they be objective observers? Or active participants?

Many would agree that news media hold incredible power in modern society and whereas the police have the authority to control citizens physically, the media often use this power to control them psychologically.

Several months after the Rose Revolution, many said the new government used PR skillfully, and some even expressed their surprise remarking that “they do not know how to rule the country, but no one knows better than them how to rule the airwaves.”

A decision was recently made to shoot a film about the 2008 August war when the five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia broke out. Talks began in September 2008 when Georgian media spread rumors that Nicholas Cage planned to play Saakashvili in the film. Some believed the news then, others were skeptical, but all were taken by surprise several days ago when Hollywood star Andy Garcia arrived in Tbilisi.

It was not Cage, but rather Garcia who took the role of Saakashvili. Despite Garcia’s refusal to speak to the Georgian press, pictures of the star had already been leaked to journalists. It must be said that from looking at the photographs, the makeup artists did a fantastic job turning the “Godfather III” star into the incumbent president.

Meanwhile, Russia has been trying its own hand in the PR war. Earlier world-acclaimed Bosnian director Emir Kusturica agreed to shoot a film about the war, and allegedly even said he was ready to postpone all his projects for the sake of the idea. So it was a surprise when two weeks ago he visited South Ossetia and stunned everyone including the Kremlin by saying he could not do the film because he was too busy.

The actual war between Russia and Georgia lasted five bloody days. However, in a fashion, another important war broke out afterwards – a media war. Both sides are using all their skills to propagandize the memory of the war to the international community, although Heidi Taliavini’s thorough report that placed the blame on both sides.

A well-known U.S. film comes to mind, “Wag the Dog,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. Hoffman plays a well-known Hollywood director who is asked to help an unpopular president stay in power for a second term. How do they do it? They invent a war in Albania. It is a satirical swipe at the PR machine and its cozying-up to power and could not be more relevant to the situation today.

Georgia fought a real war and soon a film about this real war is to be released. The question is only whether the Georgian government requested the help of Hollywood, or whether, for whatever reason, Hollywood came knocking on Georgia’s door.

This question cannot be fully answered, although the film does not even have a definite name on the Internet Movie Database. Instead it is called, “Untitled Renny Harlin/Georgia-Russia War Project.” Things will surely change later and it has been reported that Val Kilmer is also due to arrive to Georgia at some point, although it is unclear what role he will play. The stakes are high and Georgia is betting a lot to win the media war against Russia, and it looks like this movie is a mighty attempt to accomplish the goal.

But let’s return to “Wag the Dog,” which opens with the following line: “Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail was smarter, the tail would wag the dog.” So, rhetorically speaking, who and just how smart is this dog? It looks like we will have to wait until the film’s official release in May 2010 to answer this question.


Georgia Today, 23.10.09

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