Instructions for Survival is about, among a few other things, Tbilisi, Georgia. The country’s capital, it’s a city of a million people, half of the population of Toronto. I though it safe to assume that a city with such a population can make some citizens disappear into the crowd, but I assumed incorrectly. Sasha and his wife Mari know this all too well, especially during a trip within the city when a drunk guy accosts him and asks what subway line he normally uses. Mari looks visibly uncomfortable during the encounter. The stranger’s questions are dangerous enough for the couple if he traces their roots. That person could know all too well that the couple’s families want to kill them for who they are. See, Sasha is a trans man in a country that’s furiously debating whether or not people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community deserve the right to be themselves.
Director Yana Ugrekhelidze mostly succeeds in immersing her viewers into the couple’s lives although some might have nitpicks about the way it tells its story. It seems as if without explanation, Mari decides to be a surrogate mother. The film eventually explains that she does this to support herself and Sasha. He can’t get legal work without showing government identification that lists his gender incorrectly. But that plot point, which the movie introduces halfway through its running time, still feels abrupt. Thankfully, the film looks both professional and unvarnished as it depicts a couple going through many hurdles to survive. Whether they do it inside or outside the country they love, or whether it involves having to detach themselves from the families they’ve forged. The doc also captures Tbilisi’s infrastructure. And how the city doesn’t support mothers regardless of the birth assignment of the people in their lives.