There is a shot in documentarian Salomé Jashi’s stirring film that is unforgettable: a gigantic tree that has been dug from Georgian soil, now floating on a barge alone in the middle of the Black Sea. This image is one of evocative polarity: although visually stunning and fairytale-like, Jashi’s film illustrates the detrimental impact of the thinning tree line on Georgia’s rural communities. One by one, these ancient trees are being plucked from the earth in an excavation project dictated by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s former — but still shadow-ruling — prime minister, to build his own Garden of Eden.
Using this metaphor of uprooting, Jashi’s pensive documentary gives voice to the Georgian people directly impacted by the crater-sized scars in the ground, through interwoven but implicit discussions of political power, social class, and the ownership of nature. Her poetic portrait spotlights the heart felt accounts of locals, and their attachment to the trees under which generations of their families grew up, illustrating how while Ivanishvili’s private garden gains a spectacle, Georgia’s rural community loses a piece of their history. Taming The Garden is visually striking and a thought-provoking critique of the contingent relationship between man and nature. Bringing a personal edge to the environmental documentary genre, Jashi’s uninterrupted focus on Georgia’s landscape makes for brilliantly, compelling viewing.
This mesmerising debut feature from writer-director Dea Kulumbegashvili, and Georgia’s 2021 Academy Award submission for Best International Feature Film, slowly unravels the turmoil of Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), the wife of a Jehovah’s Witness preacher. Growing distant from both her religious community and her marriage, Yana’s conflict with herself and her surroundings is dwelt on with hypnotising intimacy. Opening with an uninterrupted eight-minute shot of worshippers fleeing the Kingdom Hall after a firebomb attack, long takes and unhurried sequences characterise Beginning as a meditative but refined portrait of religion, motherhood, and femininity.
Ensnared by religious strictures, and stifled by patriarchal subjugation, the heroine’s isolation, confined in Kulumbegashvili’s claustrophobic 1:33 boxed frame, is haunting. However, even more insidious is what lurks beyond the cinematic borders, which Kulumbegashvili only hints at. Masterfully shot in 35mm, Kulumbegashvili gives ample opportunity to admire the expansive beauty of rural Georgia, in which Yana is confined. Shot in the small town of Lagodekhi, at the foot of Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains, Kulumbegashvili’s somehow organic appreciation of the agrarian landscape is explained by the fact that the location is her hometown. Understated but blistering, Beginning is a quietly powerful revelation. Revealing an exciting directorial voice, it looks like the start of a thrilling film career for Kulumbegashvili.
A sobering and essential watch, March For Dignity offers remarkable insight into the organisation and execution of Georgia’s first successful Pride March: Tbilisi Pride 2019. John Eames’ film documents this turning point for Georgia’s LGBTQ+ community through a sharply observant and politically pointed lens. Following a handful of activists from their small headquarters to the streets of Tbilisi, the film explores the experience being simultaneously Georgian and queer.
In what would be a brilliant companion film to Levan Akin’s exemplary And Then We Danced, March For Dignity heralds a poignant urgency as it follows this unfolding queer history. Eames’ meticulous camera is daring with its inclusion of conservative voices, navigating the treacherous territory of anti-LGBTQ+ rallies to capture the uncomfortable and dangerous reality the LGBTQ+ activists face. As a pride flag flutters in the sky above Tbilisi, Eames’ documentary displays a pervasive sense of hopefulness. The film signifies how much progress Georgia has made, but also stands as a reminder of how much more is left to achieve. While the documentary, in its latter half, widens to accommodate conversations of LGBTQ+ folk across Eastern Europe, March For Dignity is unequivocally focused on a Georgian context of LGBTQ+ continued progression.
While March For Dignity is an exploration of queerness in Tbilisi, Jordan Blady’s concise seven-minute short film narrows its gaze to ponder the state of queerness in the capital through the eyes of an individual subject: Matt Shally, an actor, drag performer, and activist. From discussing Tbilisi’s blossoming Ballroom scene, which Shally is integral to, to reconciling his place in a city that remains steeped in conservative ideologies, Shally’s perspective allows Comfort Zone to gaze at Tbilisi through an intimate lens. The film, although short in its duration, achieves a wonderfully personal study of the city.
With the charming Shally as a guide, Blady’s camera follows him through the Tbilisi’s streets and to the outskirts, where the stunning cityscape becomes a backdrop to Shally’s talking heads. Expressing his mindset of unapologetic self-acceptance, fashion is his main outlet. Alongside Tbilisi-based designer Levau, Shally styled himself for the film; he appears in an eclectic collection of postmodern androgynous designs, bright fabrics, and bold textures. Shally goes on to grant Blady’s film access to Tbilisi’s queer nighttime culture, where Shally appears as Victoria Slutyna and hosts Tbilisi’s first drag show competition. Embodying an energetic vibrancy, Shally represents a new young generation of Georgians, whose creative and artistic self-expression seeks to rupture and re-write the future of the country.
Emerging from a world premiere at this year’s Berlinale, Alexandre Koberidze’s highly anticipated feature, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, is a captivating film that brings the ancient Georgian city of Kutaisi to life. This modern fairytale follows Lisa, (Oliko Barbakaze) a pharmacist, and Giorgi (Giorgi Ambroladze), a footballer, whose relationship starts beneath their knees. Their shuffling feet display an instant infatuation, however, an Evil Eye puts a curse on their enchanting romance and the next day they awake in different bodies. Lisa (now Ani Karseladze) and Giorgi (now Giorgi Bochorishvili) meet again, but are oblivious to the fact that the lovers they both seek are who they are now facing.
A glorious viewing experience, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is enamoured by the beauty of the everyday mundane. Showcasing the rituals of Georgian hospitality and framing the simplest of actions with tender interest — the gentle pouring of coffee and two reunited ‘strangers’ sharing a freshly baked khachapuri — Koberidze’s film embodies a quiet, calming ethereality. Shot on a combination of 16mm and digital with a romantically wistful soundtrack, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is a love letter to Kutaisi and the daily traditions of the city, and an embrace of the magical but incidental wonders of life.