The Cinema in Georgia has been noted for its cinematography in Europe. Its reputation has been built by known cinema directors and choreographers such as Nikoloz Shengelaya, Mikheil Chiaureli, Otar Ioseliani, Siko Dolidze, Kote Mikaberidze, Tengiz Abuladze, Rezo Chkheidze, Alexander Rekhviashvili, Eldar Shengelaia, Giorgi Shengelaia, Rezo Esadze, Merab Kokochashvili, Nana Mchedlidze, Lana Gogoberidze, Nana Jorjadze, Mikheil Kobakhidze, Goderdzi Chokheli, Temur Babluani and others.
One of the most acclaimed Italian film directors Federico Fellini was one of the admirers of the Georgian film: "Georgian film is a strange phenomenon, special, philosophically light, sophisticated and at the same time childishly pure and innocent. There is everything that can make me cry and I ought to say that it (my crying) is not an easy thing".
The History of Georgian cinema
The first cinema show took place in Tbilisi in 16 November 1896. Soon after that Cinema Houses were opened in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and in the other cities.
The history of Georgian cinema begins from 1908 – 1910, when Georgian cinema pioneers Vasil Amashukeli and Aleqsandr Digmelov started shooting first documentaries showing the Georgian society life.
In 1912, to the 80th anniversary of the famous Georgian poet, V. Amashukeli filmed the first Georgian full-length documentary “The Journey of Georgian poet Akaki Tsereteli to Racha – Lechkhumi in 21 July – 2 August 1912”. This film is unprecedented occasion of this period world cinematography by its lenght and artistic level.
In 1916 Alexandre Tsutsunava, well-known theatre director, made the first Georgian feature film “Qristine” based on the story by Egnate Ninoshvili. After the short period of independence (1918 – 1921) Georgia becomes a Soviet Republic. Georgian Soviet Cinematography continues tradition begun by the first film – the screening of works of literature classics (Daniel Chonkadze, Giorgi Tsereteli, Egnate Ninoshvili and especially Aleqsandre Kazbegi). But in this period directors bred in other cultures, who were working in Georgian cinema (Ivane Perestiani, Amo Bek-Nazarov, V. Barski) couldn’t reach the depth of national character and very often exploited external exotica and false romanticism, though there were single successes (I. Perestiani “Sami Sitsotskle” (Three Lives), where precisely were represented social situation of Georgia in the XIX century).
In these films was revealed the first film star of Georgian cinema Nato Vachnadze, who became the beauty of Georgian cinema not only in the period of silent film (“Arsena Kachagi” (Arsena Bandit), “Mamis Mkvleli” (Father Murderer), “Sami Sitsotskle” (Three Lives), “Tariel Mkvlavadzes Mkvlelobis Sakme” (The Story ofTariel Mkvlavadze), “Vin Arils Damnashave?” (Who is Guilty?), “Natela”, “Giuli”, “Amoki”), but also after that – including 50th years up to tragic death (“Ukanaskneli Djvarosnebi” (The Last Crusaders), “Ukanaskneli Maskaradi” (The Last Masquarade), “Narindjis Veli” (Orange Field), “Samshoblo” (Homeland), “Mtsvervalta Dampkrobni” (Peaks Conquerors)).
For Georgian cinema more productive were works of well-known theatre directors Aleqsandre Tsutsunava and Kote Mardjanishvili. They brought into the Georgian cinema the best traditions of dramatic art, innovations of modern theatre and introduced professional artists.
A. Tsutsunava’s “Vin Aris Damnashave?” (Who is Guilty?), “Djanki Guriashi” (Revolt in Curia) stand out by high film level, convincing characters of actors, national originality.
Kote Mardjanishvili’s “Samanishvilis dedinatsvali” (Step-mother of Samanishvili) is considered up to nowadays as one of the best Georgian comedy film. This film is marked not only by the brilliant ensemble of the actors, but make a base for solid traditions characteristic for Georgian comedy film – tendency of organic merging of comic and dramatic.
On the second half of 20th years the new stream of cinematographers (Nikoloz Shengelaya, Mikheil Chiaureli, Mikheil Kalatozishvili, Leo Esakia, Siko Dolidze, Davit Rondeli) came in Georgian cinema. They changed the style of Georgian cinema and successfully connected the achievements of vanguard cinema with national traditions.
Especially must be marked Nikoloz Shengelaya’s “Eliso”, Mikheil Kalatozishvili’s “Jim Shvante” and Kote Miqaberidze’s “Chemi Bebia” (My Grandmother), which are considered as milestone films in history of Georgian cinema.
Nikoloz Shengelaya’s “Eliso” (1928) is the best example of harmonic merging of tradition and innovation. The protest against the national oppression, struggle between the striving for personal happiness and the responsibility before the own people are given expressively and in the poetic form.
M. Kalatozishvili in “Jim Shvante” (“Marili Svanets” (Salt for Svaneti)) (1930) by using the methods of feature and documentary films creates the tragic and poetic picture of the severe life in the mountain, which influences the audience up to nowadays.
K.Mikaberidze’s “Chemi Bebia” (My Grandmother) (1929) is created by using the method of style variety. This keen satiric comedy film against the bureaucracy stands apart in Georgian cinematography of those times. The connection of the stressed conditionality, sharp grotesque, merging cartoon, puppets and actors would gave this film the place in the vanguard of those days cinematography, but forbidden by the censorship this film was taken out from the world cinematography. The film was on screen only in 1967.
In this period was the debut of the famous director Mikheil Chiaureli, who was a sculptor by his first occupation. His first films “Saba”(1929), “Khabarda ” (Out of the Way!) (1931) in spite of didactic intonations stand out by plastic and visual expression.
30th years cinematography in comparison with 20th years is not distinguished by discoveries and innovations. In this period Soviet art methods of socialist realism strengthens; written and unwritten regulations, schemes of genre and plot more and more oppressed the space of creative fantasy.
From this period only some films must be marked: Siko Dolidze’s “Dariko”, Nikoloz Shengelaya’s “Narindjis Veli”(Orange Valley) and especially Davit Rondeli’s “Dakarguli Samotkhe”(The Lost Paradise), which are entered in the “Golden Fund” of Georgian comedy film.
With the beginning of the Second World War Georgian cinema with the other Soviet Republics cinematography served the war. It is difficult to speak about the cinematographic achievements according to these conditions.
The situation was not improved also after the war. So-called “Less film-making” period begins in Soviet cinematography. Georgian cinema makes 12 films during eight years. With the objective economic condition the “Less film-making” was stipulated by Stalin instruction: “It is better little and good”. In good was meant mostly historic-biographic films, pompous, pseudopathetic tone; as to contemporary thematic films the tendencies of non-conflict and reality decoration were strong in them. Georgian cinema was compelled to subordinate to General Instructions. Monotonous subjects and severe regulation of methods blocked the ways of creation of highly artistic works. The Georgian cinematographers tried to express themselves with the creation of plastic atmosphere, picturesque background, filigree episode role fulfillment and brilliant actors cast. The best example of this is “Qeto da Kote”(Keto and Kote) made on the base of Viktor Dolidze’s comic opera, it may be said that it was the first Georgian musical. Brilliancy of artistic mastership, splendid music and choreography, humor, greatly done mass scenes didn’t leave spectators indifferently even today. But obviously it was not enough.
In this period Mikheil Chiaureli is raised as a leader as for Georgian, so for wholly Soviet cinema. His “Diadi Gantiadi”(Great Glow), “Pitsi”( The Vow), “Berlinis Datsema” (The Fall of Berlin), “Dauvitskari 1919”(Unforgettable 1919) must be considered as a classical model of Soviet monument style.
After the Stalin’s death in 1953, a new stage begins in the cinema life of entirely Soviet country and also Georgia. In 1955 on screen goes young directors’ Rezo Chkheidze and Tengiz Abuladze film “Magdanas Lurdja”(Magdana’s Donkey). The poetic description of reality became the characteristic mark of those period Georgian films. Principles of neorealistic aesthetics organically merged with Georgian national character and traditions and became as the definite aesthetical phenomenon.
Young generation of directors comes in Georgian cinema (Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaya, Otar Ioseliani, Merab Kokochashvili, Lana Gogoberidze, Nana Mchedlidze…), whose aesthetics and style searching were different, but they had common also: striving for analysis of keen ethic problems, interest of national roots, in interrelation tradition and contemporaneity.
A great success for Georgian cinema became R. Chkheidze’s “Djariskatsis Mama”(Soldier’s Father). The famous Georgian actor Sergo Zakariadze created universal and at the same time indeed national character of the peasant, to whom cardinal values stayed unbreakable even before the catastrophe.
At this period Tengiz Abuladze made the first film of his trilogy “Vedreba”(Entreaty), according to Vaja Pshavela’s works about the eternal struggle between kindness and evil. His poetic metaphorical style develops in the second film of trilogy “Natvris Khe”(The Tree of Desire), based on the story by Giorgi Leonidze. The great acknowledgement in the world received his third film of trilogy “Monanieba”(Repentance). In this film Tengiz Abuladze the first time in the history of the Soviet cinematography depicted up to those days taboo theme: violation of human rights in total regime.
60th –70th years are considered to be the “Golden Are” of Georgian cinema.
At this period the productive collaboration begins between the famous Georgian scriptwriter Rezo Gabriadze and Eldar Shengelaya, the result was comedies: “Arachveulebrivi Gamopena”(Unusual Exhibition) and “Sherekilebi”(The Mad). The first film is mostly tragic-comical than comic history about the sculptor, whose aspiration for highly artistic masterpieces step by step sacrificed to day-to-day compromises. From the first sight the film “Sherekilebi”(The Eccentrics) is the grotesque fairy-tale about romanticists with the flying idea, but at this time under the warm humor is revealed the opposition of the stomach and the soul, of Philistines and Romanticists, which is actual every time and mostly in 70th years Soviet Union with its dissident movement.
Giorgi Shengelaya makes his one of the best film “Pirosmani”, which visual world is fully soaked with the soul of masterpieces of well-known primitivist painter N. Pirosmanashvili. At the same time Giorgi Shengelaya is a cinematographer, who successfully works in genre cinema. On his account are western adventure films “Matsi Khvitia”, “Khareba da Gogia”(Khareba and Gogia), one of the best Georgian musical “Veris Ubnis Melodiebi”(Melodies of Vera Quarter) and also the parable from the Georgian history of the XIX century “Akhalgazrda kompozitoris Mogzauroba”(Trip ofYoung Composer).
From the end of 60th years allegory form became the characteristic mark of Georgian cinema, which we can find in absolutely different genre movies.
”Sherekilebi”(The Eccentrics) and “Londre” are comedies on folk motives, “Tsisperi Mtebi”(Blue Mountains) are modern absurd comedies, “Pirveli Mertskali”(The First Swallow) – retro comedies, “Akhalgazrda kompozitoris Mogzauroba”(Trip of Young Composer) and “Didi Mtsvane Veli”(Big Green Valley) – drama, “Motsurave”(Swimmer) – comic drama, “XIX Saukunis Kartuli Kronica”(19-th Centuri Georgian Chronicle, The) and “Gza Shinisaken”(Way to Home) – intellectual movies, but in each of them the spectator saw much more than it was described in the subject frame of the film. The parable gave to the Georgian cinematographers the means to express secretly their attitude to the existing regime, to be free in spite of conditions of severe censorship.
Despite the documentary stylistics and inclination to prosaic narration, Otar Ioseliani’s films “Giorgobistve”(November), “Iko Shashvi Mgalobeli”(Once There Was Singing Thrush) and “Pastoral” have been perceived as allegories. Relations between people became more and more difficult, life is transient, people are wasting their lives in every day unnecessary things, every day small place is left for traditional values – Otar Ioseliani’s films are imbued with warm irony and anxiety about this problems. Their plots look very simple, but main point is in unimportant, mute, but expressive scenes, from the one sight minor plastic sketches. At the beginning of 80th years O. Ioseliani continues his creative work in France. Again in his French period films the main theme is also the trouble about harmonic relations, but on the base of new material and with violent feeling of nostalgia.
Separately stands M. Kobakhidze with his shorts “Qortsili” (Wedding), “Qolga” (Umbrella, An) and “Musikosebi” (Musicians). With new comprehension of silent film style and traditions he creates mini masterpieces, where music, plastic movements, humor, fantasy make harmonious unity.
Generally this period is characterized by flourishing of short forms. The young cinematographers begin with shorts and seek dramatic conflict in the best patterns of Georgian literature (M. Kokochashvili “Mikha”, E. Shengelaya “Mikela”, G. Shengelaya “ Djildo”(Reward) and “Alaverdoba”, L. Gogoberidze “Tavadis Kali Maya”(Princess Maya)). Later drama is changed by comedy. Shortfilms: “Kvevri”(The Jar), “Serenade”, “Gvinis Kurdebi”(Vine Thieves), “Peola”, “Record” are very popular till today.
In a result the phenomenon of “Georgian cinema” created in 60th – 70th years, definitely stands out from many national Soviet cinematography by its “nonsovietsm”. To public struggle against the existing regime the Georgian cinematographers chose “not to see it”.
In 1972 begins the new stage in the Georgian cinematography. Film faculty is opened in Tbilisi Sh. Rustaveli Teatre Institute (later named The Tbilisi Theatre and Cinema Institute). The young generation with the new vision, new problems and stylistics comes to the Georgian cinematography. Differently to romantic and optimistically inspirited cinematography of 60th years, 80th yarers see the world in black colors, their emotional feeling is more dramatic, protest – more sharp though again passive, aesthetics – naturalistic, actually humor disappeared from the Georgian films.
Very soon after the appearance of the young generation on the scene, begins the destruction of the Soviet Empire, acute political and economic crisis in Georgia. So this generation couldn’t fully realize themselves, but however they left to the Georgian cinematography the following films “Begurebis Gadaprena”(The Sparrows’ Flight) and “Udzinarta Mze”(Sun of the Wakeful, The), “Laka”(Spot), and “Gamis Tsekva”(Dance in the Night), “Zgvarze”( On the Bordline), “Isini”(They), “Ara, Megobaro”(No, Friend), “Otsnebata Sasaplao”(Cemetery of the Wishes), “Rcheuli”(The Beloved), “Ik, Chemtan”(There, Where I Live ), “Ak, Tendeba”(Here Comes the Dawn) and etc.
Kino Georgia Today
The once thriving Georgian cinema industry is today in virtual ruin.
The glory of Georgian cinema was greatest during the Soviet era, a time when the government funded arts budgets, and a time where success was not measured by statistics, ratings or gross profits.
These times, however, will never return in today's capitalistic society
where the arts are supported primarily by sponsors, private donors and
The return of this once grand movement is possible only if industry leaders
armed with governmental support are charged to lead the way for a gradual recovery and reestablishment of the Georgian cinema on a worldwide scale.
Due to the limitations of local markets and retail theater outlets, the
industry cannot survive by producing and distributing films in local markets alone, and therefore, the target audience must be a global one.
The structure of the industry must not be a monopoly, but rather consist of
independent studios and production houses that will be part of the
international film industry infrastructure. Independent producers will
create product that will receive worldwide exposure, bringing recognition to their films, and in turn, to the Georgian film industry.
The reconstruction of the infrastructure and reputation of the Georgian
film industry will attract interest from production teams around the world,
thus creating employment and contributing to the growth of the local
Despite of all Georgian cinematography exists. In spite of difficulties the filmakers successfully work abroad, some directors, are trying to raise private funds for their films in Georgia or abroad .
Recently the Georgian Parliament approved the law to support the national cinematography. The Cinema-Center was established as an organization, which coordinates rebuilding of Georgian cinema and the proper allocation of film funds.
The rich traditions of Georgian cinema ,together with the great creative potential, of the new generation , bring the hope that the future of Georgian film industry will be bright and it can restore its glory and the lost positions in a world market.
Why Georgian Cinema
To say that the century-old film culture of the Republic of Georgia is in decline is an understatement. The collapse of the Soviet empire, political chaos, complete economic disaster, and finally the war have put Georgia — one of the world’s oldest and richest civilizations — in a state of coma, naturally bringing the its film industry to the brink of extinction. What once was recognized internationally and indisputably as the “national cinema of Georgia” is today just a fistful of starving filmmakers struggling to bring their visions to life on shoestring budgets.
Achieving a level of political, economic, and social stability depends greatly on the spiritual state of the nation, which, in turn, depends on the state of its culture. In the particular case of Georgia, the national cinema had been a major force in preserving the national identity as well as a consistent and indispensable contributor to the world’s treasury of achievements in cinema. To lose a culturally distinctive and strongly original force such as the Georgian national cinema would be equal to losing a continent, a speaking language, a civilization — a truly unaffordable loss.
Georgia has yet many a problem to solve, starting with rebuilding the cities ruined by the war, rebuilding the economy that will provide its people with a steady supply of basic necessities, that will return Georgia to the track of a peaceful and worry-free existence. In the face of scrounging for daily bread, making films may seem like a criminal luxury. However, one must not forget that the psychological damage suffered by Georgians throughout the years of war is even greater than the damage they have suffered physically. The spiritual void in which the country has found itself cannot wait to be filled — we have to take care of it now before it is too late. The reborn national cinema of Georgia will make a precious, priceless contribution to the spiritual and psychological healing of its people, to the rebirth and perseverance of its culture.
Rebuilding the national cinema of Georgia is becoming critically important in the face of the ever-expanding force of globalization. Even with its 5,000-year history and its rich cultural heritage, a small country like Georgia can be “swallowed” by the beast of western culture in no time. The recent visit of George W. Bush to Georgia, albeit giving Georgian politicians hope for the future influx of foreign capital into the national economy — bringing with it the long-craved sense of economic and political stability — has also alerted Georgians to the impending force of western corporate influence that may be brought along with it, causing irreparable damage to the unique culture of Georgia, to the point of wiping its identity off the face of the earth. The national cinema of Georgia will provide a survival mechanism for the national identity of this relatively small but one-of-a-kind country. If we wait to start helping our cultural rebirth until the economy is rebuilt, we may end up with a country of Big-Mac mouthfuls marching down the asphalt-covered mountains of the Caucasus to the tune of “I’m Singing in the Rain….” By letting the Georgian identity dissolve in the pool of globalization, the world will end up making yet another leap toward erasing its ethnic diversity, the type of impoverishment that will make our planet even less of a desirable place to be.
Kino Georgia aims to get the people of the United States acquainted with an ancient culture of poets, painters, warriors, and winemakers — the history and culture of Georgia knows no parallels. And Kino Georgia aims to get the national cinema of Georgia recognized throughout the world and to make everyone aware of what a precious jewel we may lose if we don’t get involved immediately in helping the century-old tradition get back on its feet. Not getting involved immediately in helping the rebirth of the national cinema of Georgia may result in the death of a 5,000-year-old culture — akin to the drying of an important river that carries its waters to, gives life to, and feeds a sea. The world’s cultural sea simply cannot afford to lose a river like Georgia from its feeding sources.
In 1998, ninety years of Georgian cinema will be celebrated. Cinema in Georgia has been recognized all over the world, its authority and reputation built on films made by Mikheil Kalatozov, Nikoloz Shengelaa, Mikheil Chiaureli, Otar Ioseliani, Siko Dolidze, Kote Mikaberidze, Tengiz Abuladze, Rezo Chkheidze, Alexander Rekhviashvili, Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia, Rezo Esadze, Merab Kokochashvili, Nana Mchedlidze, Lana Ghoghoberidze, Nana Jorjadze, Mikheil Kobakhidze, Goderdzi Chokheli, Temur Babluani and others.
There used to be a major film industry in Georgia, the Kartuli Film Studios, that regularly produced award-winning films. However during the last few years state subsidy for the film industry has become minimal and creativity thus been stunted. Many of the great directors are today unable to carry out their projects.
Federico Fellini gave the following assessment of Georgian film: "Georgian film is a strange phenomenon, special, philosophically light, sophisticated and at the same time childishly pure and innocent. There is everything that can make me cry and I ought to say that it (my crying) is not an easy thing".
Young film makers appear in Georgian cinema today fuelled by this angst and frustration. Although, like their predecessors, they suffer from lack of resources and opportunities they have bravely overcome these obstacles in order to keep cinema alive. The most recent notable films are: The Birds of Paradise (Goderdzi Chokheli), Mizerere (Zaza Khalvashi), Khiznebi (Leila Gordeladze), The Tenants (David Janelidze), 1001 Recipes of the Cook in Love (Nana Jorjadze), The Road To Chaluri (Akaki Shanshiashvili), No, Friend (Gio Mgeladze), A Dual Face (Levan Anjaparidze), A Bloody Script (Beso Solomonashvili), Oscar (Rusudan Glurjidze), with other film-makers such as Giorgi Ovashvili, Irakli Metreveli, Nika Machaidze, Dimitri Butliashvili, Nino Akhvlediani and Giorgi Tsintsadze also very active.
Georgian cinema today takes its rightful place in the history of European cinema, proud of its uncompromising attitude towards the rabid commercialisation of much of world cinema, and optimistic for the future.
Originally published in Visiting Arts Number 37: Summer 1998 issue