Mikheil Antadze, a young, aspiring director is today’s guest of the blog. Here is a short story by him.
Two years after the Georgian-Russian war, I was staying in Gori, hired by a local newspaper to take pictures of the ongoing rebuilding effort. My employer arranged for me to stay with a distant relative of his, Uncle Vano. (Actually, Uncle Vano was nobody’s Uncle, but insisted that everybody, including me, must address him this way.) He gave me a bed under a massive portrait of Stalin, Gori’s most famous son. After this, we rarely interacted, except for breakfast, when he would go into loud, mad rants about the government, conspiracies and the low market demand for crops he never even collected from his farm. I had to, of course, agree or he would go into a rant about how the youth of today has no respect for the older generation.
You can imagine how surprised I was when one night, he burst into my room only in his underwear, yelling “They’re taking away Uncle Soso!”
I sprang up, and asked him “What is the matter, Uncle Vano?”
“They’re taking away Uncle Soso, you fool! Grab your camera and follow me”
I had no idea who Uncle Soso was, or what was Vano talking about, and at this time of night couldn’t care less, but could not risk missing a photo opportunity.
I got up, put on my shirt, and followed him through the halls of the massive apartment building. He went on, energetically limping in front of me, crying out the same phrase over and over. “They’re taking away Uncle Soso! They’re taking away Uncle Soso!” Some neighbors got out. One old woman got in his way and hissed “Serves him right, that monster. The shame of our town, the shame” Vano pushed her out of the way, saying “Silent, woman! Woe is me, woe is me!” and continued to lead the way. At this point I realized something serious was happening. I put my hand affectionately on his shoulder and slowly asked him: “What is going on, Uncle Vano? Who is taking away Uncle Soso?”
“The government is, the secret police is, they came in cars at night and now they’re taking him away, away!” We got to a window in the western end of the hallway, and he pointed his finger out. I saw a squad of police cars surrounding the statue of Joseph “Soso” Stalin. I tried to take a picture, but all that would come out would be a window reflecting Vano and me on one side, and police siren lights on the other.
“Does this window open, Uncle Vano?”
“Uncle Soso” said Uncle Vano.
“Uncle Soso” echoed the hallway.
I helped myself with the window and adjusted the exposure settings, but suddenly I heard Vano Shriek. I turned back and saw him grab his heart and turn pale. He fell down, and I grabbed his hand to check his pulse. It was beating faster and faster. Behind me I heard a loud bang. They ripped out Stalin’s statue out of the ground. Vano opened his eyes for the last time. A tear rolled down his cheeks and got stuck in his moustache. I got up and called for help.
A week later I would come into the room where I once slept. A coffin replaced the bed. Stalin’s picture was taken down, now replaced by a portrait of Uncle Vano.
News enthusiasts across the globe saw the coming to power in 2003 of a young, energetic politician, Mikheil Saakashvili that would later be dubbed the “Rose Revolution,” as no blood was spilled as he took office. But there was another significant difference between this and many past revolutions – the role of the media was vividly pronounced. News was a major player in bringing the new government to power, as events were followed at every juncture and beamed into homes. The most popular television station at the time was today’s a pro-government channel Rustavi-2.
First Georgians watched how opposition groups united to protest the fraudulent elections, how they gathered people in the streets of Tbilisi for days on end and demanded former President Eduard Shevardnadze’s resignation. And later on when Shevardnadze refused to go, Saakashvili and his team traveled around Georgia to bring people to the protests. Rustavi-2 literally followed them step by step, keeping people informed. The real crescendo of this unfolding drama was when the audience sitting comfortably in front of their TV sets saw the opposition’s triumphal entrance into Tbilisi with tens of thousands of people demanding Shevardnadze’s resignation.
Saakashvili won, and so did Rustavi-2. Later after the war the channel proclaimed itself a “channel of winners.” It aligned itself with the idea of the revolution and the establishment of a new system of governance. The question that must then be asked is if TV networks such as Rustavi-2 play such an active and critical role in political life can they be objective observers? Or active participants?
Many would agree that news media hold incredible power in modern society and whereas the police have the authority to control citizens physically, the media often use this power to control them psychologically.
Several months after the Rose Revolution, many said the new government used PR skillfully, and some even expressed their surprise remarking that “they do not know how to rule the country, but no one knows better than them how to rule the airwaves.”
A decision was recently made to shoot a film about the 2008 August war when the five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia broke out. Talks began in September 2008 when Georgian media spread rumors that Nicholas Cage planned to play Saakashvili in the film. Some believed the news then, others were skeptical, but all were taken by surprise several days ago when Hollywood star Andy Garcia arrived in Tbilisi.
It was not Cage, but rather Garcia who took the role of Saakashvili. Despite Garcia’s refusal to speak to the Georgian press, pictures of the star had already been leaked to journalists. It must be said that from looking at the photographs, the makeup artists did a fantastic job turning the “Godfather III” star into the incumbent president.
Meanwhile, Russia has been trying its own hand in the PR war. Earlier world-acclaimed Bosnian director Emir Kusturica agreed to shoot a film about the war, and allegedly even said he was ready to postpone all his projects for the sake of the idea. So it was a surprise when two weeks ago he visited South Ossetia and stunned everyone including the Kremlin by saying he could not do the film because he was too busy.
The actual war between Russia and Georgia lasted five bloody days. However, in a fashion, another important war broke out afterwards – a media war. Both sides are using all their skills to propagandize the memory of the war to the international community, although Heidi Taliavini’s thorough report that placed the blame on both sides.
A well-known U.S. film comes to mind, “Wag the Dog,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. Hoffman plays a well-known Hollywood director who is asked to help an unpopular president stay in power for a second term. How do they do it? They invent a war in Albania. It is a satirical swipe at the PR machine and its cozying-up to power and could not be more relevant to the situation today.
Georgia fought a real war and soon a film about this real war is to be released. The question is only whether the Georgian government requested the help of Hollywood, or whether, for whatever reason, Hollywood came knocking on Georgia’s door.
This question cannot be fully answered, although the film does not even have a definite name on the Internet Movie Database. Instead it is called, “Untitled Renny Harlin/Georgia-Russia War Project.” Things will surely change later and it has been reported that Val Kilmer is also due to arrive to Georgia at some point, although it is unclear what role he will play. The stakes are high and Georgia is betting a lot to win the media war against Russia, and it looks like this movie is a mighty attempt to accomplish the goal.
But let’s return to “Wag the Dog,” which opens with the following line: “Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail was smarter, the tail would wag the dog.” So, rhetorically speaking, who and just how smart is this dog? It looks like we will have to wait until the film’s official release in May 2010 to answer this question.
Georgia Today, 23.10.09
When people learn I am from Georgia, they have different reactions, as the
people I meet are quite eclectic; however the most common reaction is “Georgia, Russia?” or “Georgia, U.S.A? (In case I am successful at squeezing a convincing American accent out of me). Despite these and some other reactions from people, I decided to check what random people know and think about my homeland. In order to meet and ask people I have never met before, I decided to go out to the central streets of Glasgow and approach random strangers.
My first respondent is a taxi driver, he is 59 and his name is Ian. He has never been out of Great Britain; however despite this fact he seems to possess some knowledge about the country.
“I’ve never been abroad in my life, I just stay in Britain and the only time I heard about Georgia was from news, when there was fighting between Georgia and Russia.”
News of political nature is not the only source of information for Ian, as he remembers and describes Scotland’s defeat by the Georgian national football team in 2007, as a bitter experience. When asked about Georgians Ian seems to be pleased by the fact that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks English, saying: “Your leader speaks English, which is very unusual as usually leaders in most countries don’t.”
My next interviewee’s name is Eric, 41; he sells newspapers on the streets of Glasgow. Similar to Ian, his knowledge of Georgia is partly linked to football as he says that Scotland played against Georgia several times during the world cup qualifications.
Eric’s general knowledge about Georgia seems to be proper and does not fall into any of two categories mentioned in the beginning of the article, as he tells me that Georgia used to be a part of the Soviet Union, but now is an independent state.
Having spoken to people of older generation, I am now trying to find younger opinions. Soon I noticed a blonde girl sitting and reading a book on a bench, probably in her early thirties, I decide to approach her. She replies to my request to speak with her briefly by asking what the topic is about, “Georgia” – I tell her. “Georgia? What is it?” – She questions and refuses to give me an interview.
After I experienced a failure I continue my walk in the streets of Glasgow. Unlike the previous girl another young lady, 18, whose name is Emma, studying music in college is eager to comment on the request. Emma says she has heard of Georgia, but really can’t say where exactly it is.
“Georgia in US, is not it? Or it is somewhere else as well? Sorry I am not very good at geography,” she says.
My next interviewee is Luke, 22, a traveler from Australia visiting Glasgow. He says he has heard of Georgia, as a country either from the news or the movies.
“It is in eastern Europe, probably next to Slovenia,” he says.
Having interviewed five persons in the street I think it’s time to call it quits and plan to return home. On my way I enter a computer shop for personal reasons, while choosing and browsing around some gadgets a seller approaches me and asks if I need some assistance. Then he asks me where I am from, I answer and ask him the same question: China he says. I am unable to fight my temptation to ask him one of the questions from my interview, so I address him: “Do you know where it is?” He thinks for a while and then admits that he does not.
In total, 6 people were interviewed, 2 posses general knowledge about Georgia, 2 have heard of it, while 2 have no idea what it is and where it is, that is the result of my curiosity to know what random people in Glasgow know and understand about my homeland. Sadly, they also don’t know they are missing out on great food, great wine and great people… But they still have time to learn.
“Georgia Today,” June 12, 2009
Irakli inspects tall rock face. Concluding it is relatively safe, he slides his foot into a crevice on the cliff wall and reaches for a protruding rock. One false move could mean a plunge of several hundred meters. Prior to his next moves, Irakli notes his path with the help of a walkie-talkie. His friends observe from a distance. Most of the expedition team members are inexperienced and for some it is their first time camping in Georgia’s southeastern hills.
The expedition unfolded when a friend of mine extended an invitation for two days of camping in a place called Algeti. With a strong interest in camping but lack of experience, I agreed instantly. Come Saturday afternoon nine of us filled two cars for the 60 kilometer drive southeast of Tbilisi to Algeti. After unloading the car we embarked on an uphill 40-minute hike before finally reaching the campsite in Birtvisi.
I can tell you from experience, forty-minutes of uphill hiking is easier said than done. Many of us had never been camping. Stopping to catch our breath was a frequent occasion However, the effort of getting to the Birtvisi location was worth the struggle. The site is a picturesque flat surface surrounded by cliffs and caves of about 300 square meters.
Together with a dozen other campers who had already pitched tents, we prepared for our first night in Birtvisi. Darkness was approaching quickly so we had to promptly pitch our tents, gather wood and prepare a fire and food for dinner. The next few hours were spent relaxing around the fire grilling meat and toasting drinks late into the night. We retired to our tents when someone remembered we had a long day of uphill hiking to a tower in the nearby mountains.
Begrudgingly we woke early the next morning, pushing aside our thoughts of staying at the campsite instead of continuing with our scheduled hike. With our sights set on adventure we began following the narrow paths winding around cliffs. It took a lot of effort to follow the path, but the most difficult task began about halfway to the tower when it hit a near 90-degree angle and a fear of heights quickly kicked in.
Once the fear took hold of me I started to joke: “Why do we create problems for ourselves by leaving a civilized city for a place like this?”
A friend responded philosophically, musing, “Humans are the only mammals who go into the mountains for pleasure.”
“What about goats?” another friend asked.
“Goats do it to breed,” he replied.
I tried to laugh, but after scaling two-thirds of the cliff all I could think about was how getting down would be far more difficult than going up. Pleasure was the last thing on my mind.
Finally reaching the peak, we took a well deserved rest and admired the view.
“So this is it?! We needed to go up so long just to see this tiny tower?” my friend Nodar asked.
The reactions to the view were mixed, but we agreed that descending would be much scarier than ascending. We paused frequently as we crawled down the mountain’s edge.
After a long struggle we finally returned to camp, ate dinner and slowly started to gather our things. The evening was quickly approaching and we needed to get to Algeti by dawn.
As we approached Algeti, we were pleased with our camping adventure. Our muscles ached, but our curiosity was satisfied and our desire for the next expedition shined across our faces.
Georgia Today, September 4, 2009
U.S. television actor and comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” It is hard not to agree. Georgia Today headed downtown Tbilisi to see what the city’s bookstores have to offer.
Prospero’s Books Named after the well-known film, “Prospero’s Books,” the shop at 34 Rustaveli Ave. offers books exclusively in English. For more comfortable browsing, the bookstore is divided into sections, such as travel, regional interest and non-fiction. The shop is small and reminiscent of an old-fashioned corner store with about a dozen shelves and a small cafe where visitors can chat or have a snack. Book prices vary from 25 to 70 lari.
Parnassus Located on 22 Chavchavadze Ave., Parnassus is the centerpiece of the capital’s bookstore scene, with three shops in Tbilisi. The first store opened in 2002 and offers 25,000 books mainly in Georgian, Russian and English, but also German and Italian. Prices vary, although customers have been known to find books at prices relatively cheaper here than at other local shops.
Tsignis Saxli (House of Books) is a large store housing a cafe full of coffee-drinking customers. Besides the shop, a library complete with full-time staff is located on the second floor where visitors can read on the spot. The books at the shop are mostly Georgian and Russian titles. Tsignis Saxli is located on 31 Pekini St. and sometimes called “Literaturuli.”
Georgia Today, 18.09.09
This video made me think about two things. First, I miss my friends who are in the video and created it. And second, it is always possible to make a nice amusing piece without spending any money.
CSC rating: 80/100
Country, release year: Usa, 2010
Director: Sofia Coppola
Runtime: 97 min
How would you feel if you were able to get any beautiful girl around you, how would you feel if you were welcome in any hotel in any city? How would you feel if you could drive best sport car? I know what you think. Everybody would want that. Well, maybe not Johnny Marco, he is a superstar and main character of Sophia Coppola’s new feature film. Another beautiful, lonely and poetic story from a talented director.
Everything is so easy for Johnny, his smile is enough to charm any girl, his smile is enough to please journalists. His smile is enough to make somebody’s day. He is a film star. But what if you, like Johnny had to go in circles for all of your life? What if you had to do all the stame stuff everyday? Would you still like it? Marco did not even bother learning much about becoming an actor. When a guy on a party asks how did he learn to be an actor Johnny is confused, he did not.
Who is Johnny Marco? Does he anjoy his life? Does he enjoy sleeping with girls every time a girl sees him? Actually, he falls asleep while having a sex with a gorgeous girl. Because it is so boring!
Johnny’s life is empty, he does not feel himself as a human and he does not know how to fulfil his life. While a short episode we see a film about Gandhi. Is it just a coincidence or Coppola deliberately put this prominent figure, a figure who had fulfilled life?
Coppola managed to construct a film from different pieces which give you some hints and symbols that build a simple story. Johnny’s daughter is probably the only person who “awakens” him. She gives him chance to live the life and not just be a victim of circumstances. She gives him hope.
Don’t worry if you can’t have all the girls, hotels, cars or anything else in the world, at least you can walk a straight line full of adventures and unknown, that’s all Johnny wants.