Robert Redford’s Unforgettable Time in Georgia
24 September, 2015
Robert Redford’s Unforgettable Time in Georgia
Playing host to various celebrities and prominent public figures is hardly new for Eldar Shengelaia, a famous Georgian movie director. This time, he shares the story of his American colleague Robert Redford’s visit. Redford’s experience of Georgia was, according to Eldar, nothing short of amazing. Apparently, he fell head over heels in love with the country:

“Robert was completely flabbergasted; he later told me that he hasn’t seen so much love and warmth from the people in America as he
saw here in Georgia.”

– I hosted Robert during his visit here in 1988, and we quickly became friends. He was very curious about Georgia, asking me to show him fragments of Georgian movies so that he would have an impression of local cinematography. And when I did, he told me that our movies were something from another world entirely and that the people out there should know about them.

Back in 1988, Robert came here on his private jet, bringing his family along. He was accompanied by his friend Gandy – another – as well as an excellent interpreter whom he brought from Moscow, and we communicated through him. He visited our home as well; the photo of us together features me, my daughters, Redford with his family and my brother Giorgi Shengelaia, also a director.

Upon his arrival here, Redford claimed that he was extremely tired and asked to be taken to a hotel right away. I told him that there was a performance by Sukhishvilebi ensemble scheduled for him on that day, and everyone was expecting him to attend. He didn’t want to go at first, but then opted to leave his family at the Mariott hotel (known back then as Tbilisi hotel) and to come alone instead. He did precisely that, and we headed to the concert hall. There, Redford was immediately recognized and greeted with applause as he proceeded to his seat. Two or three dances into the concert, Redford told something to his interpreter and he, in turn, told me that our guest wanted his entire family to be brought to the concert hall immediately. Naturally, we obliged, sending a car for them. Redford was so excited by the concert that once it was over, he climbed on the stage and started kissing choreographer Nino Ramishvili’s hands. He then greeted each dancer personally and took a photo with them, dragging his interpreter and myself into the frame as well.

"Just before leaving, Redford told me: “Now I know that Georgia is not Russia and that I’ve been to a completely different country.”

The next morning I came to the hotel to meet him, only to discover that he was out for a jog in the nearby Alexandrov Garden. I visited again at noon and took him to Old Tbilisi. At the House of Bread, Redford gazed intently at the bakers sticking Georgian Lavashi bread to the inside of the heated oven and then decided to try sticking one himself. He took the dough loaf, leaned into the oven and almost tumbled inside. We also climbed to the Jvari Monasteri in Mtskheta, where I discovered that Redford was also very fond of picking flowers. He happily ran around the place gathering them, without a care in the world.

Then we went to an outdoor market and after walking about for some time, Robert decided to buy some spices. After selecting a whole armful of them, he gave the saleswoman a $20 note, but she refused to take it from him. “I know who he is; I’ve seen him in the movies,” she declared. “And I am not taking any money from him.” Robert was completely flabbergasted; he later told me that he hasn’t seen as much love and warmth towards him from the people in America as he saw here in Georgia.

The day after, I took him to the Cinema House, where he was presented with a ceremonial dagger. He absolutely loved it, promising that he would treasure the gift. Then we went to my home, where we had a celebratory feast prepared. The feast’s tamada (toastmaster) was Temiko Chirgadze, a famous actor. Chirgadze didn’t speak a word of English, but he tried his best to get the point across. Redford, preoccupied as he was with consuming immense amounts of Georgian food – especially khachapuri, satsivi and mtsvadi – still never failed to double over in laughter over Temiko’s antics. We took a large amount of photos together, but unfortunately, only two survived to this day.

We said goodbye to Redford the next morning. I received invitations to his Sundance Film Festival numerous times afterwards, but by that time massive upheaval and chaos had begun in Georgia, preventing me from attending.

Just before leaving, Redford told me: “Now I know that Georgia is not Russia and that I’ve been to a completely different country.”

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