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Mariam Chachia, Nik Voigt • Directors of Magic Mountain

“In Georgia, we believe that if we don't talk about the unpleasant past, it will disappear”


- The directorial duo reveals the personal motifs behind their captivating documentary, as well as some of the parallel plots lurking under its surface

Mariam Chachia, Nik Voigt  • Directors of Magic Mountain

The Georgian-Polish documentary Magic Mountain [+see also:
film review
interview: Mariam Chachia, Nik Voigt
film profile
, directed by Mariam Chachia and Nik Voigt (who is also the film’s cinematographer), is currently playing in the Regional Competition of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival, where we took the opportunity to ask the filmmakers about the long shooting process and the powerful man who destroyed the impressive Abastumani tuberculosis hospital that is featured on screen.

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Cineuropa: Magic Mountain resembles a fairy tale that seems to hide many narrative layers beneath. Which of those ones made you embark on this cinematic journey?
Nik Voigt
: Just after we met, Mariam told me that she once almost died, but wouldn’t disclose how that had happened. I was slightly confused why someone would say such a thing and then keep it a secret. It was only a few months later that Mariam finally revealed she’d had tuberculosis, it was such a taboo that she found it hard to talk about. Because of her recurring nightmare of Abastumani, we decided to go there together with a camera and to see if Mariam could face her fears.  

You have both apparently integrated well into the isolated world of the hospital. How much time have you spent there and how did you gain the trust of staff and patients?
Marian Chachia:
Since it was a closed institution, we first obtained permission from the Ministry of Health to shoot. However, we didn't know what kind of reaction to expect from the patients. It was 2014, before the new antibiotics arrived in Georgia, and we spent five years filming there, until 2019. In Abastumani, there were many palliative patients who were simply waiting for a miracle. Some had been in the hospital for four to five years. 

NV: The first visit was important because that was when Mariam presented herself as an ex-patient of tuberculosis. This opened many doors to the patients’ rooms and lives, but also to the doctors who understood Mariam’s past well. The patients got hope from her story of recovery. Also, being someone from the outside world who showed interest in them made it easier.

When you decided to make the film, did you already know that Abastumani would be demolished?
We had no idea, and nobody knew until it actually happened. After we had been filming for a while, we started hearing rumours that the building might be sold but nobody really knew the truth. It was only through the good relationships with the patients that we discovered they had all been moved out, so we rushed there with the camera.

MC: We had just moved into post-production with our French editor, Celine Kelepikis, and created a film about the inhabitants of Abastumani. It was almost ready for release when we learned that the hospital would be converted into a hotel. So we decided to alter our finished film and continue filming with our own money. In May 2019, Abastumani was secretly demolished, and we were fortunate to have filmed it, but I will not go into details regarding how we accessed the place. 

You only mention this mysterious oligarch as the person who decides Abastumani should be destroyed, but one would like to know more. Would you reveal some details: who is he and what happened exactly?
We don't mention his name because it's not about a specific individual; it's about the power that oligarchs possess. The film refers to Bidzina Ivanishvili, one of the most powerful individuals in Georgia. He controls our politicians and acquires everything through his wealth. However, there are many other Ivanishvilis around the world who can buy, destroy, and manipulate history solely through the power of money. Oligarchs are a problem on a global scale. Now Ivanishvilis’s sunny private villa has replaced the Abastumani tuberculosis hospital. It is surrounded by a huge fence so that no one can see what is happening inside.

NV: Ivanishvili is also politically active and funds his own Georgian Dream party, which has been in power since 2012. He can pretty much do as he likes. Like the Romanovs and the Soviets before him, Ivanishvilis also decided that the magic of Abastumani should be in his hands, so he bought the hospital. Despite news stories suggesting he would keep the heritage of the building, he knocked it all down. 

Towards the end of the film, there’s a line saying that Georgia’s “future is certain but the past is unpredictable” perhaps referring to the ongoing erasing and rewriting of the past. However, what is certain about Georgia’s future?
In Georgia, we believe that if we don't talk about the unpleasant past, it will disappear. Our government financed by oligarchs is destroying Georgian heritage — with evidence erased, it will be easy to rewrite history. That's what this line stands for. When I made Magic Mountain, it was crucial for me to screen it in Georgia, however that seems very difficult to achieve now. The Ministry of Culture has already started censoring new Georgian independent films which do not glorify Georgia. 

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