Take 2: Making Movies (Again) in Georgia

Take 2: Making Movies (Again) in Georgia

Blockbuster news: they’re making movies again in Georgia – Georgia of the South Caucasus, that is. Here’s the backstory:

A Cinematic ScriptOnce a republic of the Soviet Union, Georgia has been a relatively liberal place known for its creative filmmaking, not only in former Communist countries, but in the entire world. Its rich history of movie-making encompasses comedy and drama as well as groundbreaking anti-government satire and philosophical challenges. The backdrops for shooting scenes are riveting, from snow-capped sawtooth mountains and fertile valleys to centuries-old churches and fortresses.

A quintessential sunrise as day breaks over Mount Kazbek and Tsiminda Sameda Church near Kazbegi, Georgia <br>Photo credit: Peter Guttman

A quintessential sunrise as day breaks over Mount Kazbek and Tsiminda Sameda Church near Kazbegi
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

There is symbolism and nuanced meaning in every word, every action, every raised eyebrow. These films escaped Soviet censorship in their cunning, creative tension – almost a dance – between artistic Georgian filmmakers and rigid Communist censors.

Nostalgic, symbolic, and poetic, <i>"Pirosmani"</i> (1969) set the style for Soviet cinema in the 1970s <br>Photo credit: Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Nostalgic, symbolic, and poetic, ‘Pirosmani’ (1969) set the style for Soviet cinema in the 1970s
Photo credit: Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Take 1: Making Movies, Soviet StyleGeorgia’s film industry began more than a century ago; its first film festival was held in 1896 in the capital city of Tbilisi. Over the decades and despite Soviet censorship, Georgia became an oasis for arts and culture, raking in awards from Soviet and international film festivals.

Some of Georgia’s earliest films include ‘My Grandmother’ (1929), an anti-bureaucratic satire that was made using a brand-new medium: animation. ‘The White Caravan’ (1963) was shot throughout Georgia – a cinematic 1963 time capsule – and was a Cannes Film Festival entry. A film on the edge of perestroika and landmark changes in the Soviet Union, ‘The Way Home’ (1987) reflects upon Georgia’s politics, history and culture.

A milestone film, director Aleksandr Rekhviashvili's 1987 <i>"The Way Home"</i> ventures along roads of Georgian history, religion, culture and legends <br>Photo credit: Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

A milestone film, director Aleksandr Rekhviashvili’s 1987 ‘The Way Home’ ventures along roads of Georgian history, religion, culture and legends
Photo credit: Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

(click on photo for larger version)


Two notable films that are MIR staff favorites include:

  • ‘Repentance’ (‘Pokayaniye’):  A film that represents Georgian cinema at its most creative and controversial,    ‘Repentance’ focuses on Stalin’s tyranny and repression. This landmark Georgian film was made in 1984 but not approved by jittery Soviet censors until 1987, when Gorbachev was in power and perestroika and glasnost were beginning. ‘Repentance’ called on Georgians and Soviets to repent for their native son’s sins (Stalin was born in Georgia), as well as Soviet oppression in the past. ‘Repentance’ won 10 international awards, including at Cannes, while director Tenghiz Abuladze received the USSR’s highest civilian award, the Order of Lenin. This drama is my favorite Georgian film; it is also the favorite of Katya Boyarskaya, director of MIR’s affiliated St. Petersburg office.
    With Stalin as its subject,  <i>"Repentence" </i>became an award-winning cinematic milestone in Georgia's filmmaking history <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta, from the Stalin House in Gori, Georgia

    With Stalin as its subject, ‘Repentance’ became an award-winning cinematic milestone in Georgia’s filmmaking history
    Photo credit: Martin Klimenta, from the Stalin House in Gori, Georgia

  • ‘Mimino’ (‘Falcon’): This 1977 comedy is an improbable story of a Georgian who dreams of piloting a Tupolev supersonic airliner, and flying off to foreign lands. Through madcap misadventures he succeeds – yet in the end returns home to Soviet Georgia. Winning three top prizes in Soviet competitions, the meaning of ‘Mimino’ is still discussed, decades later. This comedy is a Georgian favorite of MIR Tour Manager Michel Behar, and one of mine as well.

Take 2: Making Movies – AgainAfter the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia’s government-supported movie industry fell as well; it appeared no happy ending would be written into this fairytale script of Georgian filmmaking. But… there is a sequel.

In the past decade – thanks to generous private financing, co-production ventures, and film festival publicity such as at Locarno, Berlin, and Berkeley – a new generation of young Georgian filmmakers is renewing and nurturing the cinematic traditions of their forerunners, spilling over into Armenia and Azerbaijan as well. In all three countries filmmakers are focusing on post-Soviet identity, the role of women, and political conflicts. In all three countries movies are winning awards and stirring controversy, just as earlier generations did in Soviet times.

Young filmmakers draw upon Georgia's rich cinematic past – as with <i>"The Way Home"</i>  (1987) – in creating their own contemporary films <br>Photo credit: Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives

Young filmmakers draw upon Georgia’s rich cinematic past – as with ‘The Way Home’ (1987) – in creating their own contemporary films
Photo credit: Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives

Creative tension between nature and urbanization continues today as a major movie theme, as it was in Eldar Shengelaia's <i>'The White Caravan'</i> <br>Photo credit: Courtesy of the National Archives of Georgia

Creative tension between nature and urbanization continues today as a major movie theme, as it was in Eldar Shengelaia’s ‘The White Caravan’
Photo credit: Courtesy of the National Archives of Georgia

“Discovering Georgian Cinema”An ambitious two-year (2014-15) Georgian film retrospective – “Discovering Georgian Cinema” – at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in California recently showcased 50 of Georgia’s top films, along with several legendary and up-and-coming directors. The largest retrospective of Georgian cinema presented in the U.S. and 20 years in the making, “Discovering Georgian Cinema” is testament not only to the value of Georgian films in Soviet times, but also to the value of a new generation of filmmakers creating their own mark on contemporary cinema in Georgia and the South Caucasus.

Made For the MoviesTo appreciate the stunning beauty and treasures of Georgia, here are a few “trailers” of scenes and subjects you might find in Georgian movies:

(click on photo for larger version)


Travel to the South Caucasus and Georgia with MIRIf you love the landscapes, culture, and history depicted in Georgian movies, treat yourself to a South Caucasus small group tour adventure with MIR, where some of the most spectacular scenery in the world is used in films. MIR experts also can hand-craft a custom, private itinerary that includes your favorite destinations and special interests – such as cinema – on your own timeline.

MIR offers three scheduled small group tours that explore Georgia:

As well, MIR offers a rail journey by private train, Caspian Odyssey by Private Train, exploring countries on both sides of the Caspian Sea, from the South Caucasus to Central Asia.

You can also choose to travel on your dates and at your pace on MIR’s independent private trips: Essential Georgia, Essential Georgia & Armenia or Essential Caucasus.

Real Georgians and their centuries-old traditions serve as the backdrop for many Georgian films Photo credit: Mariana Noble

Real Georgians and their centuries-old traditions serve as the backdrop for many Georgian films
Photo credit: Mariana Noble

Regardless of how you travel, MIR’s journeys to the starring attractions of Georgia and the South Caucasus make for unforgettable travel memories – the “stuff of movies,” as they say.

(Top photo: Giorgi Shengelaia directed “Pirosmani,” a film about Georgia’s famous painter; it won the Grand Prix at the 1972 Chicago Film Festival. Photo credit: Courtesy of the National Archives of Georgia.}

(Special thanks and appreciation to Susan Oxtoby, Senior Film Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, for assistance in obtaining and using photos from these Georgian films. )

PUBLISHED: April 15, 2015

Related Posts

Share your thoughts