100 years of Georgian cinema

Regular readers will recall than we marked 100 years of Russian cinema a few months ago, and now it’s time to recognise 100 years of cinema in Georgia. This news report turned up on The Georgian Times today, of which I’ll give you the silent bit:

Georgia has been making films for one hundred years. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgian cinema was known across Soviet blocs as being vibrant and creative. The Italian director Federico Fellini once described it as “a strange phenomenon, special, philosophically light, sophisticated, and at the same time, childishly pure.” But the economic breakdown which followed Georgian independence has made it very difficult to make films, although recently, experts say that quality Georgian filmmaking is beginning to return.

Georgian film production began at nearly the same time as European cinema. The first film festival took place in Tbilisi in 1896. In honor of the 100th anniversary of Georgian cinema, a number of exhibitions, festive events and showings of Georgian silent films have been planned. “A festive opening for Georgian cinema’s jubilee celebration will be held at Rustaveli Theater,” Nino Anjaparidze, a public relations department representative for the Georgian National Film Center, said, inviting the public to attend.

According to her, the Georgian filmmaking has begun to revive. “It turned out that the anniversary coincided with the 60 year anniversary of a well-known Georgian film Keto and Kote by Vakhtang Tabliashvili and Shalva Gedevanishvili,” Anjaparidze says.

“The film festival, will also consist of showing this film and we have newly reconstructed the film and a documentary about the period when this film was made is in the works by independent company ‘Kiono Project’ headed by Archil Geloavni,” stated Anjaparidze.

Experts widely consider 1908 the year cinema was born in Georgia, when film directors Dighmelov and Amashukeli made their first experimental shots. In 1912, Amashukeli shot the first full-length documentary movie, Akakis Mogzauroba [Akaki’s Journey], about poet Akaki Tsereteli. The film was unparalleled by any other movie in world at that time as to its theme, length and artistic level. The first full-range feature film in Georgia, Kristine was shot from 1916 to 1918. The film was directed by Aleksandre Tsutsunava. In 1924 “Three Lives” by Perestiani was a great success – the film was the first attempt to provide psychological insight into the heroes.

In the mid 1920s, theatre, literature and art professionals came to the cinema. When Samanishvili’s Stepmother (Marjanishvili) and Khanuma (Tsutsunava) appeared on the screen, they marked the beginning of a new genre of comedy film. Films of this period were very popular due to the first Georgian film star, Nato Vachnadze {from such films as The Story of Tariel Mklavadze, Who can Be Blamed, and others), the country’s first silver screen diva.

Next came a period of new genres and style in the Georgian Cinema. One of the best representatives of the generation was Nikolai Shengelaia. Though he lived in Stalin’s epoch, watching his films we feel the directors active strive for innovation and artistic expressions in his films. Now, N. Shengelaias and N. Vachnadzes sons Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia are also famous directors of the Georgian cinema.

The film My Grandmother by Kote Mikaberidze (1929) was also a crucial turning point for Georgian film. In this movie, for the first time in Georgian and Soviet cinematography, the principles of expressionism appeared.The film was forbidden to appear on the screen, but many years later the film was restored and shown in La Rochelle. Soviet ideology was so pressing in the 1930s that little innovation took place. Only some films of the period were noteworthy: Siko Dolidze’s Dariko (1936), David Rondeli’s Lost Paradise (1937), and a few others.

Keti Dolidze a famous Georgian film director and a daughter of a well-known Georgian film director, says that she must congratulate the anniversary to the Georgian cinema in the past, and that nowadays, “Georgian cinema is in very bad condition because our government puts little money into cinema.. It is very difficult to revive after 15 years of falling and how can we overtake European cinema and even Russian cinema, as they have already produced 600 hundred movies this year because their government gives them enough money to produce films… Businessmen will never put money into this field because if they put money in, they will have to pay more taxes on it,” Keti Dolidze claimed.

To read the rest, go to The Georgian Times site. The great period of Georgian filmmaking (albeit overshadowed by Soviet ideology) was the 1960s/70s, with filmmakers of world renown like Otar Iosseliani and Sergei Parajanov (arguably one of the truly great silent directors). Of Georgian pioneers Vasil Amashukeli and Alexander Dighmelov I knew nothing before now, but there is information on them and silent cinema in Georgia generally on the Georgia & South Caucus blog.