The collapse of the USSR decimated the Georgian film industry almost irreparably, with major studios Gruziafilm and Mematiane temporarily stopping production altogether. Yet the last ten years have seen a resurgence both of Georgian fiction films and documentaries. In particular, the observational documentary genre has provided a means for filmmakers to confront the abyss of that first decade of independence, and the slow stabilisation of the one that followed.
Documentary filmmaking during the 1990s was largely historical or ethnographic in content, but in the following decade the medium emerged as the obvious tool for recording the collective and individual struggles of adaptation, loss and stagnation. Nino Kirtadze’s The Pipeline Next Door (2005) documents a bucolic village in the Borjomi Valley as it resists BP’s plans to build a pipeline past the villagers’ homes. Zurab Inashvili’s Let You Always Sing, Mother! (2008) introduces the matriarchs of rural Georgia, offering a study of Georgia’s femininity, patience and resolve. Meidan, Nave of the World (2005) by Dato Janelidze is an ode to Meidan, a central district of Tbilisi and a composite of nationalities that have lived side-by-side for centuries. More recently, Tinatin Gurchiani’s The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear (2012) sees the director organise auditions for a film and then follows the central characters around in their day-to-day lives. The individual hopes and losses of a cross-section of Georgia’s youth are revealed in all their awkwardness, pain and yearning.
Here are six of the best Georgian documentaries set for release later this year.
Director: Salomé Jashi
In The Station (working title), we follow Daro, the sole anchorwoman of a two-person broadcasting station in a small provincial town, whose passion for her job sees her scrutinise every minor event for a possible news story. The station faces closure if Daro cannot locate the necessary funds in time for the station’s impending transition into digital broadcasting. When asked about the underlying themes and ideas in the film, the director commented, “I used to work as a journalist, and it was a very painful experience. You have to offer your audience some piece of reality of the interviewee, so they get a very crooked idea of what that reality is. Media and how it constructs a reality, how people are trying to present themselves, and the question of newsworthiness, those were the ideas that interested me.” Jashi’s previous film Bakhmaro (2011), about a Soviet-era hotel, was well received at festivals. Now a restaurant with barely a trickle of customers coming through its doors, Bakhmaro doesn’t quite belong to the present, yet has no determinable place in the future. The building and the people who work there reflect the country at large which is in a constant state of waiting.
The Pioneers Palace
Director: Ana Tsimintia
The Pioneers’ Palace centres round a stage school of the same name, where children from the provinces are sent by ambitious mothers for them to sing and dance their way into “cultural society” usually ending with the illustrious New Year’s show. Tsimintia describes the film as being “about people, first and foremost. Then the concerns found in every society such as education, motherhood and the ability to make space within a close relationship. In this case, it’s the relationship between mothers and children. In the film, these are mothers who don't give their children any space, but they still have to face letting them go. The atmosphere recalls the post-Soviet building in which the film is set, where the new is in conflict with the old.”
Didude, The Last Stop
Director: Shorena Tevzadze
This struggle between the past and the changing present is also at the epicentre of Tevzadze’s Didube, The Last Stop. The protagonist, Niko, is the owner of a quiet and unprofitable veterinary surgery in Didube, in a humming bus station in Tbilisi. “Twenty years ago he opened his vet surgery and after all these years, he’s changed nothing. He’s lost all his customers and regulars only come to chat.” His story is set against that of Schumacher, whose job it is to announce the departures of mini-buses at the station. The director describes the film as a musical fairy tale, with musical narration provided by the singing troubadour Nodar, who are regulars at Didube’s diners. “In essence, this film is about people finding it difficult to adapt to the changing world, of being stuck in between the change. We will observe the very moment of the downfall of Niko’s kingdom. Maybe his shop will survive, but it is difficult to survive when you are not moving.”
Director: Giorgi Mrevlishvili
Giorgi Mrevlishvili explores the inner world of Tariela, an intriguing character from the director’s childhood summers in the Georgian countryside. As a child, Tariela survived being lost in the woods for three days, evading bears and wolves. They say he is able to see at night, and that he talks to plants and animals in his own peculiar language. The director notes that Tariela was “an interesting character, but sometimes he was not considered as a serious person because we did not understand him well. We were just curious and interested how he would behave in a particular situation [...] This film is more about listening and discovering through observation than telling a predetermined story.” Rural Georgia recurs frequently in Mrevlishvili’s work, as in his 2010 short documentary Reflection, set in the village of Ushguli in the upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus, 2,200 metres above sea level. In it, the director organises a mobile film screening to see how those with no access to cinemas behave when exposed to it for the first time.
Love Song. Pastorale
Director: Tinatin Gurchiani
Following on from the international success of The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, Tinatin Gurchiani’s follow up, Love Song. Pastorale is described by the director as “a continuation of a trilogy: if the previous film was about the seriousness and vanity of the young and the severity of life and destiny, this film will be about joy, lightness and the glory of the life of the elderly.” She adds, “It’s a poetic work. We started this film with an experiment: we ask members of the elderly to comment on old erotic folk poetry, which will work like a corkscrew, as an excuse to speak about things which are taboo. It’s about memory, emotion and what stays with us in the evenings of our lives, rather than just sexuality or eroticism.” As with The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, Gurchiani plans to keep pre-production shooting to a minimum: “I always try to get this spontaneous authenticity in front of the camera in our interaction, to be really curious about these people I see for the first time, and this is much more intense when you see it in the film.”
City of the Sun
Director: Rati Oneli
City of the Sun interlinks the stories of several tragicomic characters in the half-deserted, doomed mining town of Chiatura. Among them, a music teacher risks his life everyday extracting precious scrap metal to pay for his son’s asthma treatment. A miner has to choose between fulfilling his dreams as an actor or providing for his family in the mines. And two undernourished sisters have hopes of winning the next Olympics, ensuring their survival in the process. Oneli comments, “The film is structured like a hero’s journey from Greek mythology, through which we explore the fabric of this ghost town and the remarkable characters who live there. On a more philosophical level, Chiatura’s surreal setting presents a fascinating opportunity to study society and the people on the margins of globalisation.”