In March 2016, I started a personal diptych-project about Kartuli Filmi — Georgian Film studios, once one of the largest movie production spots in the Soviet Union.
Robert of Georgian Film
The fall of the USSR was followed by hard times for the studio and many of its treasures are now gone. But what could be saved was saved by the hands of a few heroes. This is a diptych-series depicting two of them: Robert Durakyan and Merab Kokochashvili.
Robert is the studio's oldest sound engineer. Since his first day at Kartuli Filmi in 1957, he recorded sounds for more than 600 feature films, documentaries and animation pictures. Today, when the film production at the studio is rare, Robert works as a keeper of the unique Georgian film archive.
Apart from being a part of my personal project, this photo shoot has an additional goal: one of the resulting images will appear on a poster for the Georgian director Khatuna Khundadze's latest documentary film. The film features Robert as its main character (it is the second documentary film to be about him and his work at the studios).
Batoni Merab of Georgian Film
Wise, sharp, and endlessly energetic, Batoni Merab, as he is respectfully called, is 84 years old. For 29 years he headed the Georgia Telefilm studios, the country's most productive creative ground for both documentary and feature filmmaking.
Having shot 12 films and participated in the production of dozens more throughout his career, he has now devoted himself to developing the Georgian film industry and training Georgia's next generation of filmmakers.
“Before the Soviet Union collapsed, the Georgian film industry produced up to 100 movies per year. We had more than a hundred cinema theaters. There were ten on Rustaveli avenue alone.”
A test shot (featuring the American director Thomas Burns) and a quick draft, drawn over it and describing the future scene.
Today, these numbers are but a distant dream, and Georgian film industry is just a fraction of the empire it used to be. But Batoni Merab stays optimistic. As the founder of the Young Directors Union, a non-government organization where his students develop their films, he now works, among other things, on building a film digitizing lab to help preserve and monetize a vast archive of documentary and feature films containing over 100 years of Georgian filmmaking.