Discovering Georgian Cinema

23 Sep — 21 Dec 2014 at the MoMA in New York, United States

Blue Mountains. ( a.k.a. An Unbelievable Story; Tsisperi mtebi a.k.a Daujerebeli ambavil/Golubye gory). 1984. USSR. Directed and Co-Written by Eldar Shengelaia. Image courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
Blue Mountains. ( a.k.a. An Unbelievable Story; Tsisperi mtebi a.k.a Daujerebeli ambavil/Golubye gory). 1984. USSR. Directed and Co-Written by Eldar Shengelaia. Image courtesy of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
26 AUG 2014

The Museum of Modern Art and the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) are proud to present Discovering Georgian Cinema, the largest retrospective of Georgian film ever mounted in North America. A collaboration between MoMA and BAM/PFA, the series spans more than a century of filmmaking, from 1907 through 2014. The retrospective demonstrates a dazzling range of stylistic approaches and thematic concerns, from anti-bureaucratic satires of the Soviet system to philosophical studies rooted in a humanist tradition and lyrical depictions of Georgia’s spectacular landscape. Most films from the silent and Soviet era of Georgian filmmaking will be screened in 35mm prints thanks to the generous collaboration of many European archives and Gosfilmofund and the rich holdings at BAM/PFA. The MoMA and BAM/PFA programs launch concurrently this autumn. The exhibition is organized by Jytte Jensen, Curator, Department of Film, MoMA, and Susan Oxtoby, Senior Film Curator, BAM/PFA.

The MoMA exhibition is divided into two parts: A Family Affair, running from September 23 to October 16, and Beyond the Blue Mountains, running from November 22 to December 21. BAM/PFA’s presentation gets underway on September 26 and continues through spring 2015. BAM/PFA will tour Discovering Georgian Cinema to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, from January to April 2015, and to TIFF Cinematheque, Toronto, in April and May 2015.

Ms. Jensen states: “Developing this retrospective has been a labor of love for two generations of our curators at MoMA and the Pacific Film Archive, and for me personally has been an adventure that began with the first of several visits to Tbilisi in 1991. All of us involved are deeply grateful to our predecessors for setting us on this path, and to the many collaborators who are now making it possible for us to document, assemble, and screen these precious and rare prints. We believe that when this exhibition is over, Discovering Georgian Cinema will have advanced the knowledge of this important filmmaking tradition for audiences in North America.”

Part I: A Family Affair focuses on one of the peculiarities of the Georgian cinema: the remarkable interweaving of filmmaking families from the 1920s to the present, when members of the third generation are active. The exhibition opens with the 1928 film Eliso (Elisso), an historical epic from 1928 directed by Nikoloz Shengelaia, one of the great early figures in Georgian cinema, who was the paterfamilias of a sprawling clan of film professionals that included his wife Nato Vachnadze (one of the most popular actresses of her time), her sister Kira Andronikashvili (star of Eliso) and his sons, the directors Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia. Eldar Shengalaia will present his father’s film on opening night, when the screening will be accompanied by the world premiere of a new score from composer Carl Linich commissioned by BAM/PFA, in a live performance by the Kavkasias Trio and a choir. Eldar Shengalaia will also introduce his own film Blue Mountains (1984), a deft satire of bureaucracy during the Soviet era, and his brother Giorgi’s film Pirosmani (1969), a gorgeously impressionistic evocation of the life of the Georgian primitive artist Nikoloz (Niko) Pirosmanishvili (1862–1919).

Other interrelated familial projects in Part I: A Family Affair include films by Tengiz Abuladze, who made the first internationally successful film for the Gruzia Studios, Magdana’s Donkey (1955), starring Sergo Zakariadze. Abuladze’s epoch-making surrealist parable of Soviet dictatorship, Repentance (1984), was co-written by his daughter-in-law, Nana Janelidze, currently the director of the National Georgian Film Center. Janelidze will introduce her 2011 film Will There Be a Theater Up There?, based on the true-life experiences of the Kavsadze family and starring one of Georgia’s most popular actors, Kakhi Kavsadze. Lana Gogoberidze, the Soviet era’s most prominent female director, will introduce her film The Day Is Longer than the Night (1984), along with Buba, a recently discovered 1930 documentary made by Gogoberidze's mother in collaboration with the avant-garde painter David Kakabedze. Other prominent filmmakers introduced in Part I—whose work will also be included in Part II—include Mikheil Chiaureli and Mikhail Kalatozov.

Part II: Beyond the Blue Mountains spotlights the talents of individual directors and moves between three key periods: the wonderfully creative films of the silent era; the flowering narrative filmmaking of the 1950s through the 1980s; and the current Georgian “new wave.” Part II opens with My Grandmother (1929), directed and cowritten by Kote Mikaberidze, and featuring an original score, commissioned by BAM/PFA, performed live by Beth Custer Ensemble. My Grandmother’s most memorable character is a wide-eyed, wild-haired bureaucrat’s wife who is caught up in a frenzy of bourgeois living. Her equally comic husband personifies the indolence and irrelevance of a state system that resembles nothing so much as a roundtable defended by benighted stooges. The exhibition includes other classics from the silent era by early masters such as Ivan Perestiani, whose Little Red Devils aka Red Imps (1923) is set in the Ukraine during the Ukrainian War of Independence. The film adopts the style of American adventure films directed by Douglas Fairbanks or D. W. Griffith by narrating the exploits of a daredevil set of teenage siblings and a young black acrobat who volunteer as scouts in the Red Cavalry.

Other notable films from the silent era in Part II: Beyond the Blue Mountains will include the earliest surviving Georgian documentary featurette, Journey of Akaki Tsereteli to Racha and Lechkhumi (Puteshestvie Akakiia Tsereteli v Racha-Lechkhumi) (1912), dramatizing the legendary poet’s visit to the mountainous areas of Western Georgia, made by director and cinematographer Vasil Amashukeli, who is considered the founder of cinema not only in Georgia but in the entire Caucasus.

Part II also features some of the most internationally recognized Soviet-era works, including early shorts and features of the late 1960s and early 1970s from the highly regarded Otar Iosseliani, prior to his move to France, and several of Tbilisi-born Sergei Paradjanov’s iconoclastic features, including his landmark Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964), which is set in the 19th-century Carpathian Mountains. Films from contemporary filmmakers include Nino Kirtadze’s The Pipeline Next Door (2005) and Tell My Friends that I’m Dead (2004); Nana Ekvitimishvili and Simon Gross’s 2013 In Bloom; Dito Tsintsadze’s Lost Killers (2000); Zaza Urushadze’s poignant Tangerines (2013); and works by several gifted short-filmmakers, such as Salome Alexi’s Felicità (2010) and Sofia Babluani’s What Can I Wish You Before the Fight (2012). Levan Koguasvhili, one of the country’s leading contemporary filmmakers, will introduce his films Blind Date (2013) and Street Day (2010) as one of the opening events of Part II.