In a Place of No Change
An Interview with Georgian filmmaker Salome Jashi
by Hana Rezková
Back in March 2009 when Salome Jashi first joined IDF's Ex Oriente Film workshop, the future of her documentary project Bakhmaro was at best precarious. At the 2009 East European Forum, Bakhmaro turned out to be a documentary hit in the making backed by Heino Deckert. In 2010, Doc Launch was able to assist the film just as it was ready to take off. Cut to 2011, Bakhmaro has had strong appearances at, for instance, SilverDocs and DOK Leipzig; it received Between the Seas Award at Jihlava IDFF, it was among the Silver Eye Award nominees, and we are proud to celebrate it as the 100th film made with IDF's support.
1/ When we met at the first Ex Oriente Film session in March 2009, you only had the idea for making this film. The film's future was relatively uncertain. Could you describe this early stage?
When I started working on Bakhmaro, I had a rough idea of what the film would be about but I was still searching for a suitable style. I wasn't sure how to show that nothing ever happens and not end up with a boring film. Right before the workshop, I received rejection letters from three funds and I was almost ready to scrap the whole project.
2/ A number of tutors who were encouraging you to continue were reassured by a couple of scenes that eventually became the opening scene. Did you actually shoot the barking dog at the very beginning?
The opening shot of the barking dog was shot on our second trip to the location. The shot as it unfolded before us was a complete coincidence and surprise.
3/ The trigger that made you decide to make this film was your visit to the restaurant. Colours on the walls, the waitress. You didn't work with any preexisting concept, you built the structure from scratch... Do you already consider that to be your method?
When I think about Bakhmaro and other films or ideas I’ve made or am considering, the trigger usually comes from a feeling a location gives me. There is hardly ever a clear idea from the beginning. It’s pure intuition and emotion. I usually feel, that there is ‘something’ there and later I examine what this something could possibly be.
4/ The film holds together as a very subtle structure. You had to build a 1-hour film without any clear story or central character. How much did you have put together in your mind before entering the editing room?
When I started filming, I was convinced that I could build a film on tiny details and no particular change or development. Now I understand that even in order to show nothing changing, it is important to show at least something changing. It is like showing silence with sound. I was lucky to have two main scenes unfold before the camera which gave a basis for the structure. Before we started editing, I knew that I had scenes to build on. And I knew what kind of atmosphere I wanted to show. But building up an atmospheric film, which Bakhmaro is, is more difficult and time consuming than a factual film. So it took us over three months of intensive editing to visualize the dream image that I had in my mind.
5/ You were editing in Berlin with Derek Howard. Did you have to defend any editing decisions that were based on subtle nuances difficult to understand outside Georgia?
I went to Berlin a couple months before editing. I realized that I needed to find an editor, that I couldn't do it just by myself. In Berlin I met Viktor Kossakovsky who recommended Derek Howard. From the very first day we found that we felt almost identical about the footage. We also invited Niels Pagh Andersen as an editing consultant. So in the end, Heino Deckert or a commissioning editor from MDR were involved only as viewers, not instructors. We never really fought over any particular decision and I think that's great.
6/ What sticks in my memory is the political leader's visit to the building. As if the people expressed some shy and powerless hope with no signs of activity…
Probably the only thing these people have is hope. I found out that they hope for others to change things, but never take an action themselves. Visit of the politician is like a potential outer help coming to their doors. But, deep in their hears, I am sure they know that his visit will not change anything.
7/ All of your films use observational method. Do you now see some limitations?
When you make an observational film, there is less involvement and less straightforwardness in conveying the conveying the idea, or a story, or a context. But this is exactly what I enjoy. I never want to go too close to the people I’m filming. I do not want to interefer too much. Of course, the camera does change their authenticity but I want this change to be as minimal as possible. However, I am now thinking about different ways of building a film, of going beyond the classical understanding of ‘what the story is about’.
8/ You actually studied film in London. What did it mean for your filmmaking – or your attachment to other countries besides Georgia?
I had a tutor in London – Gideon Koppel – who played a big role in shaping my perception of filmmaking. It was also there that I saw Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Bread Day that shocked me at the time and completely changed my understanding of documentary filmmaking. In the university I was also free to do what I wanted to do and we had quite a lot of free time and I think that was important for me to understand how I saw things. And maybe there I realized that film is a common language for everybody on earth and it never has to be national. I now use Georgia as a minefield for work while I'm trying to be international.
9/ The same year Nino Kirtadze made Something About Georgia, you released your The Leader Is Always Right that offered a critical look also at Georgia's nationalism. How lonely was such voice in the local and international debate about Georgia?
The The Leader Is Always Right caused some debate in Georgia. There were several screenings, discussions, reviews. And I think this was because hardly anyone had really imagined what was going on in these camps. The TV never questions these kinds of initiatives and this film was one of the rare cases when viewers looked at them from a different side. Even though I don’t consider a film to be an artistic achievement at all, I think it opened a new understanding of Patriotic Camps in those who saw the film and I’m happy about that.
10/ What is now the situation for documentary film in Georgia in terms of support, television, education, and possibilities to actually make films...?
To make a long story short… The public broadcaster pays USD 100 for a one-hour film. That is an insulting underappreciation of filmmaking. There is PIK, a new state-funded channel which offers much more (around USD 500-1000 I think) and I hope they will not cut it down. For the past couple of years, the Georgian National Film Center has been providing funding for documentaries and one can get around EUR 10 - 20K per project. In general, there is very little interest in documentary film – both from funders, from the audience and also from the filmmakers. Plus, there is no municipal cinema in Tbilisi for creative, non-commercial films. We had to rent a commercial cinema to present Bakhmaro to the public. As to education – documentary film is presented more as something part of TV and it is usually underestimated.
This interview was first published in October 2011 in IDF's Industry Reel #1.
Bakhmaro , Georgia, Germany, 2011, 58 min, HD, Social Issues, Society
A journey into a lively, yet desolate building in a provincial Georgian town. It once used to be a hotel called ‘Bakhmaro’. At the center of the building there is a restaurant with its walls covered in bright green and orange plastic foam and where the tables are set waiting for customers who rarely come. A Chinese shop, slot machines and a political party office can also be found here. The building is a microcosm sodden with the constant anticipation of change. It is a model of one troubled country with its endless demonstrations and opposition rallies. At the same time the backdrop of political situation only mirrors the life people live here.