Wednesday, May 28, 2008

FILM: ‘Tbilisi-Tbilisi’: A renaissance for Georgian filmmaking

By Rusudan Gvazava, Georgian Times , May 26

Although during the Soviet era, Georgia was well known for its filmmaking, after the fall of the Union, filmmaking in Georgia almost entirely halted. According to Gaga Chkheidze, deputy director of the Georgian National film center, since 1993, Georgian movies have not taken part any international film festivals.

“It may come as a surprise to you, but in spite of the difficult and chaotic period of the 90’s, about 60 films were made… though none of them are high level movies,” Chkheidze said. Now, two films are being marked as the revival of Georgian cinema: Tbilisi-Tbilisi (2005), a Georgian National Film Center production, directed and written by Levan Zakareishvili, and Rezo Esadze’s The Roof. Both movies took several years to complete.

Zakareishvili’s film was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, although at the last moment its nomination was withdrawn. In spite of this, the director became a member of the American Movie Academy. His film received 15 awards at various film festivals. Tbilisi-Tbilisi first gained fame at the Cinema Shock festival of CIS countries, where it won the award for Best Direction.

The film also won the Nika Award from the Russian Cinema Academy. Zakareishvili's second film about his native Tbilisi comes 13 years after his feature debut film, They, the first Georgian movie shown at the Cannes film festival. The war in Abkhazia and the economic crisis and political chaos of the corruption rampant years under the rule of Eduard Shevardnadze, during which time Tbilisi-Tbilisi was shot, have left their mark.

The film is a little rough around the edges, but has an angry realism that is immediate and compelling. Tbilisi-Tbilisi is a powerful, personal work, which turns an unforgiving narrative eye on the harsh realities of life on the streets of his native Tbilisi. Among those struggling to survive, is Dato, a hungry young filmmaker fleshing out ideas for his next project.

As Dato witnesses the marketplace his city has become, he runs into his old film teacher, now reduced to selling margarine just to survive. Also scraping by is Nona, a mute girl whose parents were killed and who now must beg for food and medicine for her sick brother; and Tedo, a young pickpocket who aggressively takes on the challenges of life.

These tales are skillfully interwoven to reveal the poverty, corruption, and class divide of contemporary life in Georgia. The idea for the film was unveiled in 1996, but because of problems with the Shevardnadze government over content that was hardly flattering, the film took six years to shoot.

The film finished in 2005, after Shevardnadze had been driven from office. “Tbilisi-Tbilisi was well received outside the country and helped to alert the film world to the beginnings of a renaissance in Georgian cinema,” Matthew Collin, from said.

Before his death, Zakareishvili worked as a professor of film at Tbilisi’s Shota Rustaveli Cinema and Theatre Institute. Right up until the last days of his life, he worked on the film Caucasus Bestseller dedicated to the April 9 tragedy in Tbilisi, when the Soviet army dispersed an anti-Soviet demonstration, resulting in twenty deaths and hundreds of injured.

In an interview with The Georgian Times a few weeks before he died, Zakareishvili said he had never been the favorite of any government because, "I always tell the truth in my films. However, I do not want to talk about politics. When I go to Moscow, I always say loudly in the cinema circle not to speak about politics. I say let’s speak about films and women."

Zakerishvili leaves two sons and his film Caucasus Bestseller, continues to be directed by his youngest son Tengo Zakareishvili, a young film director who has done a number of short films. His other son, Soso Zakareishvili, has also become a movie director, although he claims that his father never wanted his sons to work in the film industry, because he did not want them to experience the same difficulties he did trying to make films.In an interview with The Georgian Times, Soso talks about his father’s film, Tbilisi-Tbilisi, and the project he was working on in his final days, Caucasus Bestseller.

G.T.: Can you tell us when your father began to shoot Tbilisi-Tbilisi? What was the process of making this film? What kind of difficulties did you face?

Soso Zakareishvili: The Idea for Tbilisi- Tbilisi was unveiled in 1996, but as soon as the government found out what the script was about, the sequesters began. When there was money, they used to say him, ‘It is not for you, you have to wait’, etc. thus it took six years to shoot. The original name of the film was going to be ‘Tbilisi-Istanbul’ as Tbilisi was like a market place and most goods were from the Istanbul. Later it changed and was renamed Tbilisi-Tbilisi there is also one card if you see in the film two children a mute girl Nona and his brother from Abkhazia whose parents were killed during the war and who now must beg for food and medicine an live on the train .

One day, when Nona comes to the train the train goes and she worries very much, as she thinks that she lost her brother, but the train goes nowhere and stops on the railway as the train goes nowhere besides Tbilisi. My father used to say that the title referred to a destination sign he once saw on a train, indicating that the city was, in those days, going nowhere. “‘Tbilisi-Tbilisi’ is an inscription on the train which means that the train does not go anywhere. I am anxious to see another inscription on the trains very soon: Tbilisi-Sukhumi, Tbilisi-Istanbul, or Tbilisi-Paris. I am a supporter of friendship,” Levan would say.

G.T.: This film also was nominated for an Oscar, and was among 5 nominated films, but at the last moment it was withdrawn and replaced by a Vietnamese film. Was he angry about this?

S.Z.: The film was chosen from 600 foreign films and was among 5 nominated films. He said that such big festivals usually have political character. At that time, America chose to support Vietnam. However, they called him later and invited him to become a member of the American Movie Academy and he did it. He wanted to be useful to his country, to young people, and to his family.

G.T.: Did he expect the film to be so successful?

S.Z.: No, he really did not expect it. However, to be honest, the problems shown in the film worried him so much that he wanted the film to be shown to the international audience, as well as Georgia to learn them about life conditions in Georgia during the Shevardnadze period. In the last days of his life, he was working on the film Caucasus Bestseller, and the theme concerned my father very much: the events on April 9, 1989...

He said he wanted to find out what happened to the survivors; what changes had been made in their lives; which had turned to religion or politics, and who had turned to violence. Bu the lack of funds was distressing for my father.

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