Post-Communist Visual Culture and Cinema, PG conference at St. Andrews, March 2009

March 30, 2009 at 11:35 pm

When we begun planning for this AHRC-sponsored conference with the main organiser, Lars Kristensen, we never expected that the call for papers will meet with such a wide ranging response from among the postgraduate community. We had thought that there would be about twenty or so PhD students who would be interested in attending, but it was more like sixty who sent in abstracts; there were many more who got in touch via the Facebook group and who will now be members of the network that was launched as part of the event. Well done!

Academics involved in the event posed for this picture (except the keynote speaker, Prof. Andrew Wachtel of Northwestern University, who was present only for the opening night). From left to right here one can see John Cunningham (Sheffield Hallam), Ib Bondebjerg (Copenhagen), Ewa Mazierska (Central Lancashire), Brian McNair (Strathclyde), John Orr (Edinburgh), Dina Iordanova (St. Andrews), Fiona Bjorling (Lund), and Lars Kristensen (St. Andrews).

Students had traveled from as far as Latvia, Estonia, Albania, and the USA, as well as from many other countries, to present at the conference. At the end of the beautiful sunny spring day, which they all opted to voluntarily spend in seminar rooms listening to presentations rather than taking a walk on the breezy seaside, the participants posed for this picture. The programme of talks given during the day can be found at this link.

It was encouraging to realise that there is such a wide variety of people working on matters related to the cinema and the visual culture of post-communism. Presentation I attended covered themes from Baltic film industry to Croatian heraldry and Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals in former Yugoslavia, from cinematic representations of Russian migrant women in Turkish cinema to post-communist Czech comedies and Prague as a cinematic global city. Hopefully, we will see more published writing on these matters soon.

© Dina Iordanova
28 March 2009

Natvris khe/ Drevo zhelaniy/ The Wishing Tree (Georgia/USSR, 1976), dir. Tengiz Abuladze

March 28, 2009 at 1:00 am

The IMDb does not list any DVD details, but a nicely produced DVD of this Georgian classic does exist with subtitles in several Western languages. I bought it from a stall at Hong Kong’s Star Computer Arcade, alongside the DVD of the other earlier Abuladze film on which I wrote here some months ago, Verdreba. I remember having seen the film first on its release in my teenage years; it had left a great feeling of cinematic poetic and a memory of fabulous colours. On this viewing, the memory of colours was confirmed, and the feeling of poetic superiority — to some extent as well.

Natvris Khe/Drevo zhelaniy/ Wishing Tree (Tengiz Abuladze, 1976) is based on the work of a Georgian classic, Georgi Leonidze, and the subtitle of the film is marked as ‘Pictures from the Life of a pre-Revolutionary Georgian village’ (in case one may think that the patriarchal mores depicted here could have continued existing after the socialist revolution). By its very nature, most of the film’s humour and stories remain best understood by Georgians, and thus, even though one can grasp some of its charm, it remains of a somewhat limited local appeal. While viewers like myself would probably be able to appreciate many of the jokes and gather that there should be even more endearing qualities to these village stories (as it becomes clear from reading the user’s postings on the IMDb), these are mostly of interest to people who are really familiar with the culture of the region. And as I am not one of them, I must admit that many of the episodes came across as straightforward self-exoticism to me, a quality that makes films from smaller cultures travel among international audiences but ultimately, in my view, operate on the principle of voluntary self-denigration. The humor is occasionally too specific to be appreciated by those who are not in the know.

There is, however, one story of universal appeal: the account of the tragic love between the young Marita and Gedya (reminiscent in many aspects to the love story between Ivan and Marichka in Sergo Paradjanov’s amazing Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors). As soon as Gedya hears that Marita is promised to someone else, he runs to fight the contender, and is killed in the squabble. Marita is promptly married, as planned, a stupefied numb bride who soon grows totally alienated from her husband (once again we see the image of the sad bride, prevalent in the cinema of the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus).* It does not take long before, at the end of the film, Marita is forced to mount a mule (seated backwards) and then taken to her death, an act of local popular justice which is meant to punish her for ‘shaming’ the village. The inhabitants of the village are shown as good-hearted idiots for most part of the film, but now things have changed and they show a different violent and rough side in practicing their patriarchal justice. It is an exercise in destroying love and beauty, and ultimately, in the context of this film, an indictment of patriarchal society. Some dare objecting, but the community is stronger in naming the victim a villain, as it has been consolidating during all these long ‘pre-revolutionary’ years.


Sofiko Chiaureli, one of the greatest actresses of the region who is also known from her roles in Paradjanov’s Color of Pomegranate and Abuladze’s Repentance, appears here as Pupala, an aging bag lady of picturesque appearance, who keeps telling stories of her great romance with Shiola, a man who loved her so much that it was a matter of life and death. She would sit among a group of black clad village women and entertain them for hours, her exotic rags and heavily made up face in contrast with their austere appearance. In the course of the film Pupala, frequently an unwanted stranger, is revealed as a gentle soul who subtly combats the patriarchy and injustice that are shown to ultimately dominate the lives of local women.

Apparently, all films by Tengiz Abuladze (1924-1994) have had a huge influence and can be considered as stages in the development of Georgian cinema. His Monanieba/Pokayanie/Repentance(1984) was one of the most important films of the perestroika times, and probably the first film to make direct indictment of the totalitarianism of the Stalin/Beria era, a critique which soon thereafter was to become commonplace. Yet another classic of the director is Me, bebia, Iliko da Ilarioni/ Me, Grandma, Iliko and Ilarion (1962), a comedy based on Nodar Dumbadze’s work which again focuses on village life and the endearing aspects of patriarchy.

Ultimately, to me, the achievement of The Wishing Tree is that is represents an exquisit study in the use of colour. I would compare it to the more recent film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Gabbeh (1996), which is openly focused on studying colour and carries the name of the specific tapestry from the region. The mountainous landscapes, the blossom of flowers, the picturesque valleys and villages, and some of the scenes are as if taken directly from great masters like Pieter Breughel (a painter whose work Tarkovsky sought to recreate in Andrey Rublev) or like naivist painters from the region. Thirty-odd years after its original release, The Wishing Tree remains an amazingly beautiful film with its vivid colours and its ability to create mode through the tonality of the landscale.

* See my text “Balkan Wedding Revisited: Multiple Meanings of Filmed Nuptials.” October 1998. Working Papers Series of the Centre for Austrian Studies Available on-line: , Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

© Dina Iordanova
28 March 2009

Buy from Amazon

The Closing of Pyongyang International Film Festival, September 2008

March 26, 2009 at 12:34 am

I came across this interesting item on You Tube, featuring the closing ceremony of Pyongyang’s IFF last September (see also Jamie Bell’s piece on the history of this festival, in a recent issue of Sight and Sound). The festival has been in existence since 1987 and clearly is one of the festivals that has got an idiosyncratic and interesting agenda.

I also re-post here the report that comes along on You Tube, which tells us of the films that won awards — mainly Chinese and Iranian titles (a film by Xiaogang Feng and by Rakhshan Bani Etemad), but also The Counterfeiters (Austria) and Elizabeth I-The Golden Age (UK) and Atonement (UK), as well as Czech Empties. The first two films also won awards at the Oscars and at the BAFTAs, while Jan Sverak’s film got the audience award at Karlovy Vary last year. So, not much difference in the taste of North Korea’s comrades and that of audiences and academies in the West. And the range of exposure to international titles is not much worse than the one viewers at most festivals in the West would get.

Pyongyang, September 26 (KCNA) — The 11th Pyongyang International Film Festival which opened on September 17 was closed with due ceremony at the Pyongyang International Cinema House on Friday. Present at the closing ceremony were Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Ro Tu Chol, vice-premier of the Cabinet, Kang Nung Su, minister of Culture who is also chairman of the festival organizing committee, Pak Kwan Ho, chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee, and others, foreign delegations and delegates and members of the international jury of the festival. Present there on invitation were diplomatic envoys of various countries, embassy officials and staff members of missions of international organizations here. At the ceremony the results of the screening of the films presented to the festival were announced by the jury and awards were conferred upon the successful films. According to the results, award for the best film and directing and technical awards for full-length film were conferred upon the Chinese film “Assembly”, award for scenario of full-length film upon the Iranian film “Mainline”, award for shooting and fine art upon the British film “Atonement”, award for acting upon the actor who played the main part in the Bosnia-Herzegovina film “It’s Hard to Be Nice,” award for acting upon the actress who played the main part in the Iranian film “Mainline” and award for music upon the Indian film “Tale of a River”. Award for directing documentary and short films went to the German documentary “Chamame – Music, People, Poetry”, award for composition to the DPRK children’s film “The Oriole’s Song”, award for shooting to the British documentary “Earth”, special award of the International Jury of the Festival to the Czech film “Empties” and the Chinese documentary “The Imperial Garden”, special award of the Organizing Committee of the Festival to the Russian film “The Irony of Fate ” (continuation) and the Chinese film “The Tender of Feeling”. Awards for special screening were conferred upon the German film “The Counterfeiters”, the Russian film “Mukha”, the Swiss film “Vitus”, the DPRK film “The Kites Flying in the Sky”, the Chinese film “Good Man”, the French film “Aurore”, and the British film “Elizabeth I-The Golden Age”.

© Dina Iordanova
26 March 2009

Golyamoto noshtno kapane/The Big Night Bathe (Bulgaria, 1980), dir. Binka Zhelyazkova

March 10, 2009 at 1:01 am

An e-mail from a British colleague prompted me to prioritize the viewing of this DVD, which I recently purchased for 3 Bg leva in the Sofia supermarket near where my parents live. As I promised to lend him the film, I thought I should view it before sending it off, just to refresh my memory of it and see if the feeling of serious reservations that it had left me with on first viewing (now nearly 30 years ago!) would change.

The British colleague is interested in Binka Zhelyazkova’s work in general, and for a good reason: she is one of the major feminist directors from Eastern Europe, but, unlike Vera Chytilova or Marta Meszaros, she remains virtually unknown. The man had tried to approach the cinematheque in Sofia to check if they would consider making Binka’s work available, and had received a polite response written in good English which was informing him that, yes, they could produce copies and DVDs and in general help with availability, only they would do this if he could please make his own arrangements toward presenting them with letters from two other Bulgarian institutions that would give the cinematheque authorisation to go ahead with making the material available. Needless to say, the colleague dropped it all at this point (as most other researchers would); seeing this correspondence gave me an interesting glimpse into the absurdities in treating cinematic heritage that everybody working on these matters is constantly confronted with.

Now about the film itself. I still think i is a really week one; I could not help it being truly annoyed by the cartoonish characters, the slow pace, and lack of dramatic tension. If I remember correctly, the plot of the film is based on a real story. During the shooting of a film set in ancient Thrace, a bunch of friends organise a midnight swimming party on the seaside set. Drunken, they decide to play a game where one of them climbs on a stone with a rope on his neck and a sickle in his hand. The others are dancing in a circle and at one point somebody kicks the stone underneath the hangman; to save himself he is supposed to manage cutting the rope with the sickle. Two of the ‘victims’ make it, but in the third instance the young man does not manage to cut the rope and hangs. This is the culminating event in the film, which is preceded by a long (and tedious) build up of what are supposedly character studies of those involved, and is followed by an equally tedious investigation. It is all supposed to expose the drunken and promiscuous environment and the moral decline (of mature socialism) that leads to the sad loss. One of the subplots is the love affair between young gorgeous Ninel and Sava, a relationship that is seriously tested by their class differences (something that would normally not be supposed to exist under socialism). Another subplot tackles ‘The Little Prince’, the son of a highly placed party apparatchik who has just been demoted (so all speculate how their friend will be affected), yet another story included to expose the moral corruption within socialism. All protagonists are good looking, well-to-do, successful, and sexy; yet their problems are not deeply suffered and there is no dramatic development to build up to the moment of the hanging; the 150 min. length of the film can hardly be justified.

Golyamoto noshtno kapane (1980) is scripted, like Binka Zhelyazkova’s previous film, Baseynat/Swimming Pool (1977) by her husband Hristo Ganev, who is responsible also for the script of A byahme mladi/ We Were Young (1961), a film that won the top award at the Moscow International Film Festival but was nonetheless shelved afterwards and created a number of problems both for the director and the screenwriter.* One should immediately say that the script is probably the film’s biggest liability. It is supposed to have been a daring statement of sort, as Hristo Ganev enjoyed the reputation of a dissident writer, and it is probably not politically correct to declare his work weak (especially, as I can imagine, he has probably seen at least some of his work suppressed by the authorities). However, i simply cannot help it calling the script what it is: a feeble work of screenwriting. While it is clearly intended to critique the moral decline that reigned over mature socialism, as revealed here through the disorientation of this lost generation, the film is heavily dominated by small talk dialogue that should have been cut down in order to allow the director use at least some of her imagination. A pity that she does not appear to have had the strength to resist the weak script and take charge.

The second liability is the poor acting. Not much could have been done there, however, provided the heavy dialogue dominates it all. The actors are selected from among the promising new generation of VITIZ gaduates: Nikolay Sotirov (a Mathew Modine look-alike), Yanina Kasheva, Tania Shahova, Lyuben Chatalov — all actors who showed promise but were then affected by the downturn in cinema that came about at the end of the decade when they had launched their careers. For who knows what reason, there are two foreign actors in the cast (not that their presence is logically required, nor that they contribute anything to the performance, as they are both more than boring): Polish Malgorzata Braunek who plays the jaded masseuse Zhana, and Lithianian heart-throb Juozas Budraitis, whose supporting role barely has more than ten lines. I would speculate that the reason these two were in the film is that they simply wanted to spend a paid vacation on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. The main ‘acting’ is in the heavy dialogues between Nkolay Sotirov (Sava) and Yanina Kasheva (Ninel) and is meant to expose the rift between profound inherent values of carrying morality that is still intact in the provinces (he is taking care of his ill mother in the beautiful mountain hamlet of Melnik) and the inherently corrupt mores exemplified by English-language-school graduate Ninel and her friends, an urban crowd from the capital (new bourgeoisie, so to speak).

There are moments of greatness in this film, however, remnants of Binka Zhelyazkova’s trademark avantgardist brilliance: the occasional low camera shot, the bird-eye view scenes, the filming of animals (killing of birds and crabs), the drum, the dry tree on the stony seaside. These are, however, too few, to compensate for the overwhelming boredom. With the abundance of close up shots of beautiful semi-naked bodies among sand dunes, this film somehow kept referencing in my mind to a relatively recent Vera Chytilová work, the equally weak Vyhnání z ráje/ Expulsion from Paradise (2001), which, even if made more than twenty years later also evolves around sand dunes and relationships, and looks very similar in its beach stories, aesthetics and concerns.

I must confess to taking a profound dislike to all novels and films that feature a group of similar protagonists, and where the focus is on the group dynamics — be it taking place in a boarding school, a student dorm, in a madhouse or, like here, among a group of young people on their summer holidays. It is a large topic that I am not going to go into and which I am mentioning mostly because, strangely enough, it seems it was this kind of group dynamics films that dominated the early 1980s of Bulgarian cinema. The earliest one seems to be Binka Zhelyazkova and Hristo Ganev’s Baseynat/Swimming Pool (1977), about a bunch of young people confronting issues of moral decline, very similar and equally dialogue-heavy as The Big Night Bathe. Then there were films such as Vulo Radev‘s Adaptatsiya/Adaptation (1981), probably the best of this range (about a bunch of young people belonging to a psychoanalysis group), Lavina/ Avalanche (1982), based on Blaga Dimitrova (a bunch of young people forced to confront their moral foundations when challenged by nature), and Rangel Vulchanov‘s A sega nakade?/And Where Do We Go From Here? (1986), about a bunch of young people searching for a moral compass in life. The cycle probably came to an end with Ivan Andonov‘s Vchera/Yesterday (1988) where the bunch of young people affected by a moral crisis put it all squarely on the vicious socialist system. What is noteworthy is that all these films scrutinizing the moral decline in the young generation were made by members of the older generation, directors and writers born in the 1920s and the early 1930s; members of the generation that was being scrutinised (my generation actually, born in the 1960s) simply never had the chance to make films on these matters as by the time we came to maturity, the end of socialist funding for cinema hit and severely limited the chances to develop robust and prolific filmmaking careers. Thus, we never had the chance to give a cinematic response to the diagnostic that older filmmakers were imposing on us.

When I look back now, I realize that I probably hated these films as my life was not particularly different from what was shown in it. We had all adapted to the socialist system which we were not finding particularly onerous, as long as we could go abroad once a year and spend three weeks by leisurely exposing our naked bodies on the cliffs near the village of Varvara, where, for many years, the dry tree used as a prop for the hanging in The Big Night Bathe was still standing. We were passing by it every day, on our way to the nudist beach, and then also on most nights, on our way to the late night parties that were full of alcohol, locally sourced and prepared food, and heterosexual sex: pretty much the same stuff that is seen in the film.

* See my piece on these matters: Iordanova, Dina. “Binka Zhelyazkova” In: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia (ed. Derek Jones), London/Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publ., 2001, vol 4, pp. 2705/6.

© Dina Iordanova
10 March 2009

South East European Women Directors, Round Table at FEST in Belgrade, 2009

March 6, 2009 at 7:05 am

Last week I took part in the round table featured on this photo. The event took place at the Sava Center, the modern and somehow anonymous site in the new part of Belgrade, Serbia (across the river from better-known popular quarters like Kalemegdan and Skadarlija). The project was developed on the initiative of director Slobodan Sijan (of Ko To Tamo Peva/Who Is Singing Out There fame), and the visit to Belgrade was really a great chance for me to meet with this hugely important cinema visionary from the region. It was also a chance to get an update from old friend Dusan Makavejev, who is in great shape and spirit. Besides people like Ron Hollway, Bernd Buder and Silke Rabiger who, like myself, had arrived from abroad, or Pavle Levi from Stanford, who is spending his sabbatical leave in his native Belgrade, the round table brought together some female filmmakers as well, like Melina Pota-Koljevic or Carna Manojlovic and scholars Nevena Dakovic, Milena Dragicevic-Sesic, and Ivana Kronja. Of course, festival director Milos Paramentic and artistic director Mica Vuckovic were also there; it was great to catch up with Vida Johnson, a US-based specialist on Russian cinema, who has decided to finally do some work on Serbian cinema and is preparing a special issue for the on-line journal Kinokultura.

I see that Ron Holloway has already published the study he presented at the Round Table. In the context of our preparation, we also worked collectively to come up with a list of female filmmakers from the region of South East Europe. I am posting here a version of this list which contains 63 names (but it is constantly growing, and I am aware that many names of filmmakers from Greece and Turkey in particular are still to be added). It is great to see that some attention is finally being paid to these filmmakers. I remember that more than 15 years ago I had tried to put in an application to some US-based foundation to finance my travel to the region so that I can explore more the work of female directors. The application was rejected on the basis that I would be exploring something non-existent. Well, the list below would probably help if someone would consider making a similar application nowadays.

SEE WOMEN FILM DIRECTORS – JANUARY 2009
Working List – 63 SEE Women Film Directors – English Titles

Albania – 1
Elezi, Iris (Suicide Inc, USA 2001, Disposable Heroes, Kosovo, 2005), short films

Bosnia and Herzegovina – 7
Begic, Aida (Snow, 2008), Cannes Week of Critics Award
Ljubic, Vesna (Posljednji skretnicar uzanog kolosijeka, 1986)
Majstorovic, Danijela (Counterpoint for Her, 2004, The Dream Job, 2006)
Milosevic, Ivana (Never Been Better, 2006)
Svilicic, Vanja (See You in Sarajevo, 2008), short feature
Vajraca, Sabina (Back to Bosnia, 2005, with Alison Hanson)
Zbanic, Jasmila (Red Rubber Boots, 2000, Grbavica, 2006, Golden Bear Berlinale)

Bulgaria – 17
Aktasheva, Irina (Monday Morning, 1966) (worked in tandem with Hristo Piskov)
Andonova, Milena (Monkeys in Winter, 2006)
Evstatieva-Biolcheva, Mariana (The Prince and the Pauper, 2005)
Grubcheva, Ivanka (One Calory of Tenderness, 2003)
Koseva, Nadejda (Ritual, in Lost and Found omnibus film, 1995)
Milotinova, Milena (The Saved Ones, 1999), documentary
Nikolova, Elka (Binka, 2007), documentary on Binka Zhelyazkova
Peeva, Adela (Whose Song Is This?, 2003), documentary
Pesheva, Sylvia, (Shantav den / Crazy Day, 2004)
Petkova, Roumiana (The Other Possible Life of Ours, 2007)
Petrova, Svetlina (She, 2001), animation
Sophia, Zornitsa (Mila from Mars, 2004)
Tosheva, Nevena (Bulgaria: Land, People, Sun, 1966), documentary
Traykova, Eldora (Of People and Bears, 1995), documentary
Triffonova, Iglika (Investigation, 2006), Cottbus Grand Prize
Tsotsorkova, Svetla (Life with Sophia, 2004)
Zhelyazkova, Binka (The Tied-Up Balloon, 1967)

Croatia – 4
Budisavlejevic, Dana (Everything’s Fine, 2003)
Cakic-Veselic, Biljana (The Boy Who Rushed, 2002)
Juka, Ivona (Facing the Day, 2005), documentary
Tribuson, Snjezana (Three Love Stories, 2007)

Greece – 6
Angelidi, Antouanetta (Thief of Reality, 2001)
Dimitriou, Alinda (Birds in the Mire, 2008), documentary
Malea, Olga (The Cow’s Orgasm, 1997)
Marketaki, Tonia (The Price of Love, 1984), died in 1994; major figure)
Rikaki, Loukia (Symfonia haraktiron, 1999)
Tsangari, Athina Rachel (The Slow Business of Going, 2000)

Hungary – 6
Elek, Judit (Awakening, 1995)
Enyedi, Ildiko (My 20th Century, 1989)
Fekete, Ilboya (Bolshe Vita, 1996, Chico, 2001)
Gyarmathy, Livia (Escape, 1997)
Kocsis, Agnes (Fresh Air, 2006)
Meszaros, Marta (Adoption, 1975)

Kosovo – 2
Zeqiraj, Lendita (Exit, 2004), codirector
Zeqiri, Blerta (Exit, 2004), codirector

Macedonia – 2
Mitevska, Teona Strugar (I Killed a Saint, 2004, I Am From Titov Veles, 2007)
Zarevska, Dragana (Grandma’s Villlage, 2007)

Montenegro – 1
Perovic, Marija (Pack the Monkeys Again, 2004)

Romania – 5
Bostan, Elisabeta (A Telephone Call, 1991), children’s films
Domin, Andrada (The Lamenters, 2007), documentary
Niculescu Bran, Tatiana(For God’s Sake, 2007), documentary, codirector
Radu, Corina (Bar de zi and Other Stories, 2006), documentary
Ursianu, Malvina (What a Happy World, 2003)

Serbia – 7
Balas-Petrovic, Eva (Panonski Peak, 1989)
Boskov, Gordana (What’s Up, Nina?, 1984, Flashback, 1997)
Ceramilac, Ratiborka (Virtual Reality, 2001)
Kapic, Suada (The Trap, 1988)
Maric, Marija (Heartsick Youth, 1990)
Stojkovic, Andrijana (An Island, 1996), Home, 1996, The Box, work-in-progress)
Vukomanovic, Mirjana (Three Summer Days, 1997)

Slovenia – 2
Slak, Hana A.W. (Blind Spot, 2002)
Weiss, Maya (Guardian of the Frontier, 2002)

Turkey – 3
Esmer, Pelin (The Play, 2005), documentary
Ipekci, Handan (Hidden Faces, 2007)
Ustaoglu, Yesim (Waiting for the Clouds, 2003, Pandora’s Box, 2008)

Gagma napiri/ The Other Bank (Georgia, 2009): Transnational cinema at the periphery

March 2, 2009 at 1:58 am

Talking to Georgian Tbilisi-based director George Ovashvili last week at Belgrade FEST about his gripping humanist tale Gagma napiri (The Other Bank), where it was featured as part of the competition Europe outside of Europe, led to the emergence of yet one more amazing composite picture of the subdued dynamics of transnational filmmaking ‘at the periphery’.

While this appears to be a distinctly Georgian film, in that it is set in Georgia and Abkhazia and features the specific realities of the country, it is also one that involves creative ‘above the line’ contributions from professionals that belong to no less than seven other national cinematic traditions, none of which is Western. Kazakh Sain Gabdullin co-produced the film with Ovashvili, while Kyrgyz Marat Sarulu acted as an associate producer. The adaptation of the novel was assisted by Rustam Ibragimbekov, a screenwriting veteran of Soviet cinema responsible for classics such as Beloe solnce pustyni (White Sun of the Desert, 1970), who is based in Baku, Azerbaijan today. The cinematography of the film is by Iranian Shahriar Assadi, best known for his work on Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can’t Fly (2005), the sound mixing — by Czech Ivo Heder, while Jew Israel David is listed as score recordist.

When he came to think of editing the film, Ovashvili noticed that two of his favorite films, Kim Ki-duk’s The Coast Guard (Hae anseon, 2002) and Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok, 2003) shared the same editor, award-winning Sun-min Kim. Clearly, a South Korean editor would be out of reach for a director based in Tbilisi in these turbulent times, be it just for the sake of the differences in language and the geographical distance. Nonetheless, George Ovashvili decided to use an e-mail address he found on the Internet and tried contacting Sun-min Kim by sending a message into cyberspace following the principle ‘if you do not try, you do not know,’ yet without expecting much. To his great surprise, however, he soon received a reply from the editor who was amazed that someone from a remote and isolated country like Georgia may know of her work and may be interested to work with her. When it transpired that the Georgian director’s budget cannot accommodate the usual fee that the editor would work for, she even agreed to reduce substantially, and worked on the project for a whole month in Tbilisi, giving it her full attention and dedication.

There is nothing surprising, really, in this configuration of transnational collaborators, especially as it is coming from a director who identifies Korean director Kim Ki-duk and Iranian Majid Majidi (alongside Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf) as his main influences. It is more and more often that major international auteurs trace their artistic roots to influences that come not from the West but from countries like Russia and Iran (take the example of acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, for example, whose early work reveals a fruitful cross-pollination between Tarkovsky and Kiarostami). The trend of this ‘peripheral’ transnational cinema is getting stronger every year. I see it all the time in various instances, yet it appears it is best to foreground it one example at a time, as I have attempted to do in this short discussion of George Ovashvili’s film.

© Dina Iordanova
2 March 2009