Industry / Market - Georgia
Industry Report: Documentary
Georgian documentary filmmakers join forces to fight the government's culture crackdown
Taming the Garden director Salomé Jashi details how the volatile situation led to the formation of the Georgian Documentary Association, DOCA Georgia
Even before a proposed new law – demanding that any non-commercial organisation in Georgia that receives more than 20% of its budget from abroad register as a “foreign agent” – was recently announced and then withdrawn in the parliament after huge protests, local documentary filmmakers had started joining forces. One of the founders of DOCA Georgia, the Georgian Documentary Association, which was introduced in December 2022 at the Tbilisi Film Festival, is Salomé Jashi, whose film Taming the Garden [+see also:
interview: Salomé Jashi
film profile] was the first documentary to catch the eye of the increasingly autocratic government.
“Until then, I think no one in the government considered us important or cared what we did,” says Jashi. But after winning awards at multiple festivals following its world premiere at Sundance in 2021, and getting theatrical distribution in Germany, Switzerland, the UK, the USA and Canada, the film – which deals with billionaire, former prime minister and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili's hobby of creating a huge personal garden for himself – screened at Tbilisi later that year and raised eyebrows. The regime's crackdown on independent culture continued with the head of the Georgian National Film Center (GNFC), Gaga Chkheidze, being ousted from his position in March 2022 by Minister of Culture Thea Tsulukiani, and replaced with her deputy, Karlo Sikharulidze, a career diplomat with no experience in the film industry.
“It has now been a year since he's been the head of the GNFC, but he runs it from his cabinet in the ministry and never shows up for any film-industry events,” says Jashi. Not a single documentary was funded by the GNFC in 2022, which is a first in many years, while funding competitions that had already been in place were scrapped. Another competition was opened in October 2022, and applicants waited until the end of March for the results.
“I know about several projects that suffered immensely because of this,” Jashi explains. The proposed “foreign agents” law would have affected the film industry as well: many production companies are not-for-profit entities, and if they receive funding from international funds or foreign co-producers, which they effectively always have to do because local budgets are too low, they would have to register as such, which discredits them in the eyes of the general public and brands them as traitors. This is an established method used by the regime, and many civil organisations have been targeted: if they fight for women's rights, the regime will say that this is against Georgian traditions.
“They don't even need the law for this,” opines Jashi. “They are discrediting and marginalising the civil sector, and this is also why it was important for us to create this association. […] Now we have 50 members, and together, our voices can be heard more widely.”
DOCA Georgia aims to strengthen the documentary industry through networking and finding ways to develop the field at home: besides the spotty and insufficient funding, there are no cinemas in the country that screen documentaries, and TV channels are not buying or broadcasting any either. Later in the spring, DOCA Georgia will choose its chairperson and finalise the board, and at the moment, Jashi and five other founders are working on developing plans for its activities.
“For most of the members, it's crucial to network, to meet regularly, share knowledge, discuss the issues we are all affected by and look for solutions,” she says. “We are now feeling energised by what the protests managed to achieve, and we want to harness this energy to develop a healthy, Europe-orientated documentary industry.”
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