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The Most Important Thing Is to Retain Humanity. Interview with Zaza Urushadze

“This film, above all, is a story about people who find themselves in a situation that is beyond their control, and forces them to renounce their human nature”. Read the interview with Zaza Urushadze, a Georgian film director and the winner of the Best Director Award and the Audience Award at the 29th Warsaw Film Festival, given to Tomasz Piechal, Eastbook.eu.

Kadr z filmu

A scene from Tangerines. Materials from media

Tomasz Piechal: Your new film Tangerines touches the subject of the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-1993. And although the film refers to the events going back 20 years, it leaves the impression that they are still a burning issue.

Zaza Urushadze: But of course, the subject of Abkhazia stays important to Georgia. What is now happening in South Ossetia – the systematic shifting of borders, inch by inch, to Georgia’s constant disadvantage – causes strong reactions among Georgian citizens. And, being a citizen of a small country, I cannot stay calm observing these attempts to deprive us of a part of our territory. However, my film should not be perceived as a statement or a form of engagement in political infighting between states. This film, above all, is a story about people who find themselves in a situation that is beyond their control, and forces them to renounce their human nature.

While this film tells the story of a typical Caucasian conflict, you, quite surprisingly, made the main character an Estonian. What was the point?

First of all, we should say that Ivo cannot be regarded as personification of a typical Estonian. This is a man who has deep roots in Abkhazia: he was born there, his family lived there for 100 years. In particular, this explains his decision not to leave for Estonia despite the war. He is an aged man closely connected to his land. Still – by virtue of his origin – Ivo, to a certain extent, is an “alien” for both sides of the conflict. But above all, he is a strong personality – against all odds, he still has common sense, values, ​​and morality in the world that simply goes crazy.

This morality pushes Ivo to giving a shelter to two wounded soldiers, members from the hostile camp – a Georgian and a Chechen mercenaries.

Ivo remains human. He retains all the features that distinguish humans from animals – leniency, willingness to forgive and to understand, tolerance, sensibility and empathy. He feels no envy and remains a man of great strength of mind, despite all the circumstances. This is what the film is about: humanity. We can easily forget, deny ourselves, and allow other people to manipulate us, which, in reality, is not a big deal. We easily forget that we are all humans. We can be of different origin, from different states, of different faith, but we are all humans. This is the main message of my film – that we should remember the most important thing: to stay human.

Ivo repeatedly calls his “wards” enemies – with irony but also with reproach in his voice. You have created the image of a human community, but I was especially impressed by another scene with Russian soldiers who became a real threat to all the characters of the film. So even though you are trying to dissociate yourself from politics in the film, apparently it does not always work.

But the film does not say directly who these soldiers are. It’s your interpretation [laugh]. In the end, the mentioned scene mainly reveals the insanity of war and its brutal irregularity. That drunken officer could belong to any side of the conflict. I stress once again that I am trying to avoid politics. I want to show, first of all, one value which, in situations of a conflict, is frequently overlooked: the value ​​of humanity.

The opening night of “Tangerines”  has already taken place in Georgia. How did the audience receive your film at home?

The reception was fantastic, and that makes me very happy. After the premiere, we got a 15-minute standing ovation. This reaction was an incredible surprise for me and a cause for pride as well. The awards at the 29th Warsaw Film Festival prove that we have been able to create a universal thing.

This is the first joint Estonian-Georgian film production. As you were the head of the Georgian National Film Centre, it seems reasonable to ask whether this film could be created without other countries’ support. What is the current situation of Georgian cinematography?

It should be noted that the production of “Tangerines” was also supported by the Ministry of Culture of Georgia, though financial contributions made ​​by the Estonian side were more significant. Money remains the core issue of Georgian cinematography. For the past few years, we have managed to create a mechanism to support the national filmmaking, which works quite well, but we are still struggling with financial problems. Last year, for example, the state allocated only 2 million euros for the entire cinema sector. It is an incredibly small sum, and Georgian filmmakers are constantly faced with the challenge of finding money for their projects. However, this does not negate the fact that there is some progress, and one may already observe real signs of improvement.

Tangerines, trailer (Georgian: Mandariinid; director by Zaza Urushadze, Estonia – Georgia, 2013) 

In Estonian and Russian (with English subtitles)

Zaza Urushadze (b. 1966) is a Georgian film director and screenwriter. In 1982-1988 he studied at the directing department of the Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film Georgian State University. In 2002-2004 he was the director of the Georgian National Film Centre. For the film “Tangerines”, Urushadze won the Best Director Award in the International Competition at the 29th Warsaw Film Festival.

Translated by MA

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