Over the next two months, MovieMaker’s weekly series “Foreign Contenders” will feature interviews with the heavyweight helmers behind their respective countries’ entries for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Each week, we’ll explore the subjects, issues and modes and means of production that have placed moviemakers’ foreign features in the running for international Oscar gold. The Academy releases their shortlist in December and will announce the eventual nominees in January. This year, a record 85 films have been submitted.
Thanks to the international success of films such as the Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated Tangerines (a Estonian-Georgian coproduction), the Oscar-shortlisted Corn Island and others, Georgian cinema has become a prominent national force in the Caucus region. It’s also an emerging fertile ground in Eastern Europe for moviemakers who want to tell stories about the places they know and the conflicts that have defined them.
Winning the top prize at Karlovy Vary’s East of West competition earlier this year, Rusudan Glurjidze’s debut feature House of Others shined a light on Georgia’s small but undeniably talented group of moviemakers. The aftermath of a war in the afflicted region of Abkhazia serves as the backdrop for Glurjidze’s characters to deal with guilt and the (a)morality of their actions. Driven out by the conflict, most people from the small coastal town have vanished. A family composed of a mother, her teenage daughter, and a female soldier are the only witnesses of the unfolding conflict, and when a family of outsiders come to claim one of the abandoned houses as their own, a new ethical dispute begins.
Shot in Academy ratio, House of Others evokes art house films from a different time, capitalizing on the desolate beauty of its setting and the innate ghostly qualities of an abandoned place. MovieMaker spoke to Glurjidze about her quietly potent first feature and the financial and logistical hurdles she overcame to honor her country’s recent past on the screen.
Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Talk about the influences on the film’s gorgeous cinematography, and the conversations you had with your director of photography to achieve it.
Rusudan Glurjidze (RG): We spoke about that desaturated and foggy and gloomy ambience as the main reference for the mood of the film. We spoke about some of Tarkovsky’s movies, especially The Mirror, and also about other movies from directors that we love, such as Theo Angelopoulos and Bela Tarr. We always tried to avoid doing coverage by choosing a point of view for each sequence and maintaining it as long as possible, shooting sequence shots with the dolly. That way we wanted the audience to discover those new spaces together with the characters, keeping a respectful attitude about the treatment of the space through a slow, unhurried rhythm. We spoke about the importance of the mirrors and reflections in the movie, as a way to represent the character’s inner evolution, their way to look at a new reality in their lives, and also as metaphorical connection with their others, with the former owners of their houses.
MM: Why was it important for you to make a film about this particular region and the aftermath of the conflict? What was the writing process like given the ideas you wanted to express?
RG: I believe that it is my duty to speak about this conflict. It is a duty of my generation because Abkhazia is a most painful topic for my country. We should often remind the world that our country is still under occupation. There is an order of “peace,” but still much conflict remains.
Also this film is film of hope. Hope for 350,000 refugees who were forced to leave their houses in just one night. As I know after 25 years they are still keeping keys to their houses… Just two weeks ago, I spoke with an old woman, a Georgian refugee, who told me after screening “I left from my house 25 years ago but now after screening I have filling that it was 25 minutes ago.” Hearing this from someone who experienced this story as a reality meant very much to me.
MM: Tell us about finding your actors and their relationship to this land and to Georgia? I understand is a very international cast?
RG: The casting took one year and our decision was not always easy. There were many unexpected changes… It is interesting that almost the entire cast has the same story in their life. For example, Salome Demuria is a refugee from Abkhazia. She was eight years old when she left from her house, so she knew perfectly how to ply Ira. Branko Djurich is a Bosnian actor who lives now in Belgrade. He lost three houses during Balkan war. Sabina Akhmedova is Armenian and Azeri same time. So, they all have the right to speak about this particular story because for them it is personal.
MM: How difficult was it to find a location that looked like a ghost town?
RG: It was extremely difficult because Abkhazia has a very unique landscape. It is the most beautiful region of Georgia but it is still in war (occupied by Russia), so we had no ability to shoot there. We were forced to find our location in other region of Georgia.
We found our set in a remote village in the Adjarian Mountains. It was previously a Greek village that was abandoned 25 years ago. The boarded and nailed houses and the wild tangerine gardens were raw and natural. It was real gift of god, a stage that was ready for shooting.
MM: How do you see the current Georgian film industry? Do you feel it’s improving or becoming more recognized around the world?
RG: After many years of collapse, the Georgian film industry has began a new life and settled again on the international cinematography map. We have many talented, strong directors. Film critics like to call them a “New Wave of Georgian Cinema,” and I just want to add that this wave is based on old Georgian traditions of cinematography.
RG: RED EPIC. We would have preferred to shoot on an Alexa, but in order to save costs we used the RED EPIC because we had this camera already. The EPIC was the newest version at the time, and has a 5K resolution as opposed to the common 4K. This movie could have been so beautiful if have shot on film, we always preferred to shoot film, but it was too expensive for this kind of production.
RG: Arri/Zeiss Masterprimes. We wanted to use the light as much as possible, shoot really wide open, taking maximum advantage of the natural light sources like candles and oil candles.
RG: We basically used bounced HMI lights from the windows, some other small units bounced in the interiors and a lot of candles and oil candles, sometimes using their real light as the main source, another times hiding some small bulb to augment the intensity of the light coming from the candles
RG: We shot 5K RAW footage, which was processed during the postproduction to get a final 2K Master of the film.
RG: It was done in Allfilm, Estonia, with grader Marcus Voll. We basically matched some shots, desaturated a bit the general tone of the film and called it a bit. The general look was done on set.
RG: Forty-two shooting days. We chose to shoot exteriors only during the magic hour and on cloudy days, which made the shoot a little longer than it should normally be.
RG: [Funding] was difficult, as always. We spent two years searching for financing and finally received a grant from the Georgian National Film Center and the Ministry of culture of Russian Federation. It is a very selective process with many wonderful scripts; our project was chosen out of 40 others competing in Georgia and out of almost 200 scripts entered for the Russian Federation grant.
RG: Just one small village with two houses. We did not need any set decoration, it was all original. MM