Georgian film history began in late 19th century and the first cinema opened in Tbilisi in 1896; by the 1900s, there were several film theaters throughout Georgia. In 1912, Vasili Amashukeli and Alexander Digmelov directed the first documentary film Akaki Tsereteli Racha-Lechkhumshi, which effectively marked the begining of the Georgian film industry. In 1916, Alexander Tsitsunava made first feature film Kristine. After World War I, Tbilisi was second only to St. Petersburg in a number of cinema theaters and film productions in the Russian empire.

The Georgian film industry prospered in the 1920s, when a special unit was established at the Commissariat of People’s Education in 1923 and later developed into Goskinprom (state cinematic production). This period produced several talented directors. Siko Dolidze’s Dariko, David Rondeli’s Dakarguli Samotkhe, Kote (Konstantine) Mikaberidze’s Chemi bebia, Nikoloz Shengelaia’s Eliso and Narinjis Veli, Ivane Perestiani’s Arsena Jorjiashvili and Krasnie diavoliata, Amo Baknazarov’s Poterianoe sokrovishe, and Mikhail Kalatozov (Kalatozishvili) Marili Svanets set standards in the industry and greatly influenced subsequent generations of Georgian artists. In the same period, Alexander Tsutsunava and Kote Marjanishvili, both coming from a theatrical background, introduced the best traditions of dramatic art into the Georgian cinema. Tsutsunava’s most memorable films were Vin Aris Damnashave? and Djanki Guriashi while Mardjanishvili’s Samanishvilis dedinatsvali remains one of the finest Georgian comedies. In 1929, Mikhail Chiaureli debuted with Saba and later produced his other feature film Khabarda.

As the Soviet authorities strengthened, the Georgian film industry found itself increasignly under pressure to conform with official guidelines. Socialist realism became the dominant theme and the creative force gradually weakened. This was especially evident between the 1930s and early 1950s, when the cinema effectively became a propaganda machine for the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. In 1938, the Tbilisi Cinematographic Studio was established in Tbilisi. Several Georgians rose to prominence in this period, notably Mikheil Chiaureli who emerged as one of the most important Soviet filmmakers in the 1940s and became Joseph Stalin’s favorite director; his movies contributed significantly to the creation of Stalin’s personality cult. Among his important works were Velikoe Zarevo (1938), Giorgi Saakadze (1942-1943), Kliatva (1946), Padenie Berlina (1950), Nezabivaemii god 1919 (1952), etc. The success of the Georgian cinema was also due to a generation of talented artists, including Nato Vachnadze, Veriko Anjaparidze, Alexander Zhorzholiani, Sergo Zakariadze, Tamar Tsitsishvili, Ushangi Chkheidze, etc. Mikhail Gelovani became famous for his portrayal of Joseph Stalin in Vyborgskaia storona and Lenin v 1918 (1939), Oborona Tsaritsyna (1942), Kliatva (1946) and Padenie Berlina (1950).  

In the 1950s-1960s, the Georgian cinema saw the establishment of the Gruzia Film studio and the rise of a young generation of talented directors and screenwriters. Tengiz Abuladze and Rezo Chkheidze collaborated on the 1954 feature film Magdanas Lurja, which earned them the prestigious Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival and first prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1956. Abuladze’s other film Someone Else’s Children (1956) won awards at the international film festivals in Tashkent, Helsinki, London and Tehran. In 1958, Mikhail Kalatozov (Kalatozishvili) achieved great success with his Letiat zhuravli that won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and he went on to direct the successful films Neotpravlennoe pizmo (1959) and Red Tent (1969).  

The period between the late 1960s and the 1980s was the golden age of the Georgian film industry, which produced up to 60 films a year. In 1972, the Faculty of Cinema was established at the Shota Rustaveli Institute of Theater and later developed into the Tbilisi Institute of Theater and Film. The studio employed such prominent directors as Giorgi Danelia, Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia, Otar Ioseliani, Lana Gogoberidze, Mikhail Kobakhidze, Nana Jorjadze, Dito Tsintsadze, Sergey Paradzhanov, Goderdzi Chokheli and others. The period is noteworthy for a remarkable collaboration of the creative artists Rezo Gabriadze and Eldar Shengelaia, who produced such memorable films as Arachveulebrivi gamofena (1968), Sherekilebi (1973) and Tsiferi mtebi (1983). In 1962, Abuladze produced one of his most popular feature films, Grandma, Iliko, Illarion And Me, based on Nodar Dumbadze’s novel. One of the most acclaimed Georgian films of this period Otets soldata was directed by Rezo Chkheidze in 1964, with Sergo Zakariadze in the leading role. Chkheidze went on to direct a series of hits, including Gimilis bichebi (1969), Nergebi (1972), Mshobliuro chemo mitsav (1980), Tskhovreba Don Kikhotisa da Sancho Pansasi (1988). Abuladze’s Vedreba (1967) won a grand prix at the San Remo Film Festival while his other film Natvris Khe (1976) was also honored at film festivals in Riga, Tehran, Moscow, etc. Giorgi Shengelaia directed the popular movies Pirosmani (1969), Matsi Khvitia (1966), Alaverdoba, Rats ginakhavs, vegar nakhav (1965), Khareba da Gogia (1987), Sikvaruli Kvelas unda (1989) and the musical Veris ubnis melodiebi (1973). Ioseliani worked on Giorgobistve (1968), Iko shahsvi mgalobeli (1970) and Pastoral (1975) while Kobakhidze produced Kortsili (1964), Qolga (1966) and Musikosebi (1969). Lana Gogoberishvili achieved critical acclaim with Gelati (1958) and later directed Me vkhedav mzes (1965), Peristsvaleba (1968), Rotsa akvavda nushi (1972), Aurzauri salkhinteshi (1975), Ramodenime interviu pirad sakitkhze (1979) and Oromtriali (1986). This period is also noteworthy for a number of short films, including Kvevri, Serenada, Ghvinis Kurdebi, Peola and Rekordi, that remain popular to the present day. Goderdzi Chokheli directed Mekvle, Adgdgoma, Adamianta Sevda, Utskho, Agdgomis Batkani and Tsodvis shvilebi. In 1979, Temur Babluani made a debut with Motatseba and followed with Begurebis gadaprena (1980) and Kukaracha (1982).  

Some of the films produced in this period were censored and kept from public release. Otar Ioseliani’s works were suppressed on several occasions, while Abuladze’s famous Monanieba (1984) was released only three years later. This feature film of Abuladze became one of the most famous and controversial movies of this period as it portrayed the brutal reality of Stalin’s purges and had a long-lasting effect on raising political consciousness in the Soviet Union. Sergey Paradzhanov was another major director in the Georgian cinema, whose works earned him worldwide acclaim. His Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1965) became a breakthrough film and international success, garnering the British Film Academy Award in 1966. His next film, Sayat nova (The Colour of Pomegranates), revealed his mastery of film art and complexity of his vision that produced a series of unforgettable scenes. In 1980s, Paradzhanov directed two major films Legenda o Suramskoi kreposti (1985) and Ashik Kerib (1988) that further enhanced his stature as the preeminent Soviet director of his generation.The Georgian film industry fell in disarray in the early 1990s, when Georgia found itself in the midst of a civil war, ethno-territorial conflicts and economic crisis. Nevertheless, a number of popular films were produced, including Laka, Gamis Tsekva, Zgvarze, Isini, Ara, Megobaro, Otsnebata Sasaplao, Rcheuli, Ik Chemtan, Ak Tendeba and others. Babluani directed Udzinarta Mze in 1992 and won the Silver Bear prize at the Berlin Festival. Dito Tsintsadze debuted with Dakhatuli tsre in 1988 and later produced Sakhli (1991), Stumrebi (1991) and Zghvarze (1993). Many directors emigrated to Europe and Russia. Otar Ioseliani and Mikheil Kobakhidze continued their career in France while Nana Jorjadze and Dito Tsintsadze worked in Germany; Jorjadze enjoyed a very successful career, winning the Caméra d’Or at Cannes for her Robinzoniada, anu chemi ingliseli papa (1986) and receiving a nomination for the American Academy Award for her Les Mille et une recettes du cuisinier amoureux (The Chef in Love, 1997). In 2001, the National Center of Cinematography was established in order to revive the Georgian film industry. An international film festival had been organized annually in Tbilisi since 1999. Unfortunately, a massive fire in mid-January 2005 destroyed a large number of the Georgian movies after the storehouse of the Georgian Film Studio burned down in Tbilisi.

Alexander Mikaberidze