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  • Canadian Films in Georgia and a Common Film Front to the World
  • Jerry White

Canadian cinema and Georgian cinema have a lot to learn from one another. During the mid- to late USSR period, Georgia was widely known as the home of the most vibrant part of Soviet cinema; Derek Elley, writing in Films and Filming in 1977, called the filmmaking of that period “a light in the Caucuses.”1 When I contributed to the catalogue of the Pacific Film Archive’s 2015 touring program, which it assembled in collaboration with MoMA, I argued that Georgian cinema of the 1960s–1980s was the Iranian cinema of its day: a poetic and visually rich cinema counter-intuitively emerging from a revolutionary-authoritarian context. Canadian cinema, with strong roots in realism and a long history of fitful attempts to consolidate a commercial cinema that might survive in the shadow of the Hollywoodian elephant beside which it sleeps, might seem to be a very different entity indeed. But both Georgia and Canada are “small countries” in terms of the global circulation of their cultural products. Furthermore, both countries are thoroughly colonized by Hollywood, with local productions struggling for screen space. On any given day it is possible but by no means easy to see a Georgian film in Tbilisi, much like seeing a Canadian film in Toronto (or Polish a film in Warsaw, or a Thai film in Bangkok); once outside of the metropolitan centre, the situation deteriorates rapidly.

So it was logical that the 2017 Tbilisi International Film Festival (which unspools in December) would feature a program of Canadian cinema, supported by funds connected to Canada 150 and to the fiftieth anniversary of Telefilm Canada. The program was made up of four features in addition to a shorts program of five works and a mini retrospective of Denis Côté (made up of Curling, Vic + Flo ont vu un ors, and Ta peau si lisse). Côté was present for the screenings, as was François Jacob, director of the 2016 feature documentary Sur la lune de nickel, a very delicately shot and critical look at the mining industry’s impact on the Siberian town of Norilsk. Screenings that I was at (such as Jacob’s) were well attended and provoked plenty of engaged questions after, so there was clearly some appetite for the national cinemas.

Fortuitously, this Canadian program unspooled as the National Archives of Georgia was upping its cinematic game. Film archiving in Georgia is a sensitive subject. During the Soviet period, the standard practice throughout the [End Page 81] Union was for all elements and original materials to be sent to Gosfilmofond, in Moscow, for archiving. Since the collapse of the USSR Gosfilmofond has kept all of this era’s archival material. Recent years have seen some tentative initiatives aimed at repatriating some key films to Georgia, and since 2016 Gosfilmofond has returned the original materials of four groups of films to the Georgian National Film Centre (which was modelled after France’s Centre national du cinéma).2 Despite this history, there are a number of archives in Georgia with film holdings, since materials such as festival or television prints tended to remain with the local studios. These include archives attached to the state-owned television station, the Documentary Film Studio (known as Mematiane) and the Georgian Film Studio (known as Sakhkinmretsvi). Of all of these institutions, though, the National Archives of Georgia is somewhat different. This is partially because in addition to holding this kind of secondary material, they are also the home of a small amount of original material (all of it newsreel) shot during Georgia’s first period of independence, 1918–1921 when the country was known as the Democratic Republic of Georgia. Furthermore, it is the National Archives of Georgia that have been most active on the international scene. Their film collections are overseen by Nino Dzandzava, who trained at the George Eastman House, is part of many European and global networks of film archivists, and has presented programs of Georgian cinema at Pordenone, Bologna, and many other venues. Dzandzava has also led the Archive’s efforts to join FIAF, the Fédération...