First UK-Georgia co-Production Aims to Amaze World by Unknown Georgia
28 February, 2013
First UK-Georgia co-Production Aims to Amaze World by Unknown Georgia
UK Producer feels proud to be participating in the renaissance of Georgian film industry

The fact that Georgian film industry is regaining its lost positions on local and international arena is no longer a secret. This must be the best time for the film industry as barely anything in the sphere of art needs promotion and acquiring world fame more than cinema. Apart from well-known Georgian directors working abroad such as Dito Tsintsadze and Gela Babluani, there have cropped up
noteworthy success stories of the rookies too. As Nana Janelidze, eminent Georgian female director says, this is already an understated and dated perception, predetermined by the lack of information, when people say that nothing ever happens in Georgian film industry. To prove her words, it’s enough to mention this year’s 63rd film festival in Berlin, which has been particularly successful for Georgian films.
Georgian movies participated in two segments of the festival: on February 7, Zaza Rusadze’s feature debut “A Fold in My Blanket“opened the official program “Panorama“. Nana Ekvtimishvili’s and Simon Gros’ “In Bloom“ was screened within the framework of Forum and was awarded the Prize of the Independent Jury of International Confederation of Arthouse Films. Both debut films of Georgian directors were created with the financial support of Georgian National Film Center. The films were selected for the Festival during the pre-festival visit of Berlinale delegation in Tbilisi (October, 2012). We are very proud of our rich movie traditions and gladly accept the success stories that are directly linked to the renaissance of what was known as the phenomenon of Georgian cinema. Georgian Journal is pleased to inform you that below we offer an exclusive interview with the British Producer Mike Downey, Member of the Board of the European Film Academy, Member of the Council of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), who contacted us and told us interesting news: first UK-Georgia co-production is on the way.

G.J: How was it decided to shoot the English-Georgian film?
M.D: Ben Hopkins and Pawel Pawlikowski cooked up the story originally, based on their experiences of travelling around the world to attend obscure film festivals in emerging and post-Soviet countries. That was a thing we had in common, being longstanding purveyors of ‘festival’ films to the international market. (Statistic: Film and Music Entertainment Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME)  has had TWENTY feature films in Official Selection at FIAPF accredited “A”-Class festivals and has won a total of SEVEN major awards. In addition, F&ME films have been additionally screened at 58 International Festivals and have won 66 international awards in a ten year period.)  So we teamed up. We had already been working with Ben on an idea I had been developing for a while about the artist Joseph Beuys that had become stalled because of rights issues. Sam Taylor and me have always been a bit fearless in shooting in the places other producers fear to tread. The British Film Institute came on board with development funding and some cash to prep and we were away. Within six months of getting involved, we had a draft and started prepping by visiting a number of post-Soviet Caucasus countries. When we hit Georgia, we knew we had struck gold.  Firstly, international audiences have barely seen the country – so it looks entirely authentic and original; secondly, the amazing support of the Georgian National Film Centre and the Ministry of Culture and thirdly, the great crews and wide variety of locations in the orbit of the capital Tbilisi. Fourthly, the food and wine and hospitality was/is amazing.  
G.J: You mentioned that you are glad to be participating in the renaissance of Georgian film industry. Was not your interest partly aroused by the fact that the co-production is quite an accepted form of film-shooting today and that some Georgian directors, including Dito Tsintsadze, Gela Babluani and others, have received impressive credits for their creative works?
M.D: I know the work of Dito and Gela very well and appreciate their very special talents.  Georgian cinema has always been a major force in the world cinematography, but in the post-Soviet period it stagnated.  I’m very happy that under the dynamic leadership of Georgian National Film Centre and the entry of Georgia into Eurimages, there is now a good basis to kick-start the film business back to its former glory.  Witness the two prizes won by Georgian films at the first two major festivals of the year in Berlin and Sundance.
G.J: What is the film about and what is it called if you don’t mind to reveal it exclusively for Georgian Journal’s readers?
M.D: Epic tells the story of washed up and mentally unstable film-maker Emil D. Forester who gets invited to the newly founded Karastan to attend a major retrospective of his 31/2 films at the Palchik International Film Festival... and ends up directing the country’s national Epic about Tanat the legendary and purported medieval founder. A comedy about globalisation and nation-building, sex and art, money-laundering and love. There is no point in overdoing its comic effects, no need for stylization or any attention-seeking formal trappings. Quite the opposite: I believe that the more authentic and real the film is, the funnier it will be. In the case of Epic, reality is absurd, credibility is ridiculous, and authenticity is hilarious.
The idea of national identity and myth-making and ethnogenesis (particularly in Transcaucasia) is one of the underlying themes for this comedy. National history and identity, rediscovery of national identity, myths of origin, foundation myths, and myths of homeland, descent, separation and colonialism are all key issues for understanding a large part of this post-Soviet world.  Equally Ben, Pawel, myself and Sam have spent much of our film-making life at the festival art-house circuit and have come across our fair share of auteurs on the festival trail.  We’ve all been at the film festivals where you see a has-been action hero or a washed-up comic actor or a faded beautiful star, who, for a lavish sum, appear on the red carpet to cash in on their past glory.  And good luck to them.  I remember, I had an extraordinary moment with Michael York at the Almaty festival in the mid-nineties, later on, another one in Moscow with Pierre Richard, and again, with Gerard Depardieu quite recently. Now he seems to have gone full time!  They were lavishly paid and gifted for their presence – as the recent celebrity turn out at Akhmad Kadyrov’s, the puppet President of Chechnia’s birthday shindig shows.... Our story, like most other stories was borne out of the idea of what if? What if the auteur did go to an obscure festival? What if his career and life had gone a bit off the rails? What if he entertained the idea of forging a Faustian pact where artistic integrity and unlimited resources go hand in glove? What if he fell in love with a beautiful, intelligent, enigmatic woman? The eternal question what if?
G.J: Why did you choose this particular theme?
M.D: Actually, I wanted to make a comedy. First and foremost it is a comedy.  Secondly, it’s a romantic comedy and thirdly, it is a sharp political satire. You can’t work in any post-Soviet context and not be politicized in some way.  And the case in point is that there are places in the world that have evolved into a nation-states in the post-Soviet era, and they are countries looking for an identity.  Some of the oil-rich countries like these have annual bills for public relations consultancies that amount to the entire GDP of other emerging nations.  And yet it is often the poor emerging nations that have the biggest hunger for the PR make-over. Writing the screenplay of EPIC has been a pleasurable challenge, not only because of the incredible calibre of the screenplay, the exceptional track record of the director, and the international appeal of the cast – the fact that it is being shot in a part of the world which has yet to be widely seen on the big screen is an enormous selling point for the film. Already we have an original screenplay and serious artists working on the film; add to that a location that not only fits the screenplay perfectly, but also in its own way it is spectacular, original and largely unseen locales that will bring enormous added value to the existing package.
G.J: Who are the directors of the film and who are Georgian actors participating together with such an impressive international team, including Pride and Prejudice Heartthrob Matthew MacFadyen, Twilight – Breaking Dawn heroine Myanna Buring, and Australian star Noah Taylor?
M.D: Ben Hopkins is a screenwriter, film-maker and novelist. He was born in Hong Kong and grew up in North London. He was educated at Oxford and the Royal College of Art. He lives in Berlin and Istanbul. He speaks English, German, Italian, Turkish and French. His films include features and shorts, fiction and documentary; he has won awards at the festivals in Berlin, Locarno, Antalya and Sitges. Ben won early recognition with his multi-award-winning shorts The Holy Time and National Achievement Day, both of which were made while he was still a student at the Royal College of Arts.  He began his professional career with the critically acclaimed feature films Simon Magus (1998) and The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz (2000). Ben’s third feature, the documentary 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep, examined the history of a Pamir Kirghiz tribe and won numerous prizes, including Best British Film at the 2006 Britdoc Festival, the Caligari Prize at the Berlin Film Festival and Best Film at the Toronto Hot Docs Festival. In 2008 he released The Market, which played across the world and was selected for both the Dinard and London Film Festivals. (Nota Bene: As we learned, Georgian actors engaged in the film, are: Leo Antadze – Igor, Lasha Ramishvili – Ruslan and Davit Velijanashvili – shadow).
G.J: Who will be the main target audience of the movie?
M.D: The film is aimed at a worldwide international market and has already been sold to Germany, the UK, Russia and a number of other territories when it was launched at the Berlin film Market last week. The film is being marketed internationally by Stealth Media group and there are in advanced negotiations with a US studio.
G.J: Will you shoot the rest of the film in Great Britain?
M.D: The rest of the film will be shot in the UK and a short shooting will be made in Germany, and around Frankfurt.
G.J: When do you plan to finish it and when will it be released for Georgian and British audiences?
M.D: The film will be delivered at the end of July and we are aiming to launch its finished version at the Toronto and Venice Festivals. It is evident that the film has healthy ambitions to conquer the oldest film festival and one of the most attended and prestigious festivals, which makes us happy. God help the authors of the film in making a successful movie!
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