Animation in Georgia

By Mariam Kandelaki

© Mariam Kandelaki, 2011

On 28 December 1895, in the Grand Café on Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière publicly showed the first works of cinema: The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1896), Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (La sortie des usines Lumière, 1895) and Tables Turned on the Gardener (L’arroseur arosé, 1895), a small sketch performed by actors. This is when the public witnessed the birth of one of the miracles of the twentieth century: moving images. Eleven months later, the miracle of moving images arrived in Georgia. The Tbilisi newspaper Tsnobis Purtseli reported in November 1896: “Today, on 16 November at 8 p.m., the Aristocratic Theater will show cinematography—live photographic pictures by the Lumières, who are famous all over Europe.

Very soon, screenings were held in other towns of Georgia, too. The year 1908 marks the birth of Georgian cinema, when the cinematographer Vasil Amashukeli created the first Georgian full-length documentary film. He is also the author of the remarkable documentary Journey of Akaki (Akakis mogzauroba, 1912), which follows the famous Georgian poet Akaki Tsereteli on a trip to Racha and Lechkhumi, two regions of Georgia. The filmmaker used this event to reflect life in Georgia, its customs and, most importantly, the love and great respect of the Georgian people for their poet. The film historian Georges Sadoul has remarked that there is no other film of this kind among the films made before 1912. In 1916 the theater director Alexandre Tsutsunava created the first feature film.

enmityAnimation emerged in Georgia in the 1920s. However, the first animations can hardly be qualified as films: they were cartoons made for the purpose of Bolshevik propaganda. The first proper animation films were created in 1929, when the authorities commissioned director Kote Mikaberidze to make a satirical film that would criticized excessive bureaucracy: My Grandmother (Chemi bebia, 1929). At the time, many such film-satires were produced in the Soviet Union, but Mikaberidze managed to turn this banal propaganda film into a cinematographic work of high artistic value and unique aesthetics. Even now this film makes interesting viewing, yet this masterpiece infuriated Soviet censorship. Until the 1960s the film was “under arrest” and Mikaberidze was deprived of the right to make films. In certain cases, Soviet censorship turned a blind eye to the “critical attitude” of filmmakers, but it never forgave free artistic thinking. Georgian animation started with this film: Mikaberidze established an organic link between live acting and animated characters. Besides, various types of animation are used in the film: stop-motion, cel animation and cutout animation. The film confirms that there are no limits and restrictions for real talent: an artist should be earnest in his creative process, otherwise he will create either formal, pretentious mannerism, or “frozen” art created by means of mental calculation and devoid of feeling.

jay weddingGeorgia, like all the other republics of the Soviet Union, suffered severe repressions in the 1930s and 1940s. The situation was aggravated by the Second World War. It seemed animation was out of question. However, in this period Vladimer Mujiri gathered talented people and made efforts for their professional development: he made the short black-and-white animation Argonauts (Argonavtebi / Kolkheti, 1936); in 1939 this was followed by the drawn animation A Worthy Answer (Chiora). During World War II numerous political satires appeared in the form of animation, of which the most important are Exaggeration (Prevzoshel, 1942) and When Goebbels Lies (Kogda Gebbel’s ne vret, dir. S. Fedorchenko, 1944). Mujiri and his colleagues overcame all difficulties, and by the 1950s the creative and technical personnel were ready to achieve interesting artistic objectives. Thus, today’s animators pay tribute to Vladimer Mujiri and his team, who did their best to carry the heavy burden of pioneers in animation.

In the 1950s and 1960s Georgian animation developed hugely. Numerous people came to animation from painting and from feature films: Shalva Gedevanishvili, Temo Mikadze, Arkadi Khintibidze, Boris Starikovski, Vakhtang Bakhtadze, Otar Andronikashvili, Mikheil Chiaureli, Gabo Lavrelashvili and Karlo Sulakauri. Their works are based on Walt Disney’s animation school. In this regard, special mention should be made of the films made by Khintibidze: Jay Wedding (Chkhikvta qortsili, 1957), Enmity (Mtroba, 1958), Tsuna and Tsrutsuna (1961) and Half-Chicken (Nakhevartsitsila, 1962). Based on Georgian literature, folklore and Disney’s principles, Khintibidze created wonderful films that charm children and adults alike. His works are full of lyricism and soft humor. He often drew on Georgian folk songs and dances; unlike Disney, he rarely used gags. His films are a celebration of Georgian local color.

tsunaAnother outstanding animator is Vakhtang Bakhtadze, who contributed to the development of animation in his work and life. The only director who worked in the field of stop motion animation was Karlo Sulakauri. He came to animation from puppet theater direction and remained faithful to puppets. He created many short puppet films, as well as the first series of puppet films Salamura’s Adventures (Salamuras tavgadasavali, 1975-79).

By the end of the 1960s a third generation of animators appeared: Bondo Shoshitaishvili, Mikheil Bakhanov and Ilo Doiashvili. They were the first professional animators, who graduated from the Film Institute in Moscow (VGIK). Shortly after graduation they made their first successful cartoons.

This generation had a well-equipped animation studio and highly-qualified creative staff. Their vision went beyond Disney’s creative principles; rather, they were followers of the Zagreb School. This team created an arbitrary hero, a man in an arbitrary environment described in laconic terms that is typical of the Zagreb School. This vision, naturally, changed the nature of the sound track. The appearance of this generation was vital for Georgian animation, and the filmmakers created really beautiful films, including Mikheil Bakhanov’s Ra-Ni-Na (1974), a creative piece full of life and made with minimal technical efforts; and Bondo Shoshitaishvili’s Prisoner (Tusagi, 1984), and Some Little Men (Katsunebi, 1978). These films are characterized by refined narration, humor and, in certain cases, soft sarcasm. This manner attracted the attention of festivals and brought the director numerous awards, among them an award of the Annecy International Animation Festival and the Russian Film Academy’s NIKA award. Ilo Doiashvili is a director in constant search of dramaturgy, image and animation. In this very period, Givi and Gogi Kasradze, Merab Saralidze, Shadiman Chavchavadze and Otar Dumbadze made their first films.

plagueThe next generation of animators appeared at the beginning of the 80s. Film directors Tamaz Gomelauri and Gela Kandelaki established a five-year training course in animation at the Rustaveli Institute of Theater and Cinema. This experiment was successful and in 1982 five young graduates started to work in the field of animation: Rezo Gvarliani (Tramp [Macancala, 1987], Hunter [Monadire, 1985]), Dato [David] Takaishvili (Raven [Korani, 1981], Plague [Chiri, 1983], Babilina [1987], Expectation [Molodini, 1989]), Lado Sulakvelidze (Portrait [Portreti, 1981], The Land Demands its Due [Mica tavisas moitxovs, 1983], Coming [Modis,1988]), Dato Sikharulidze (Goose Tasiko [Bati tasikos tavgadasavali, 1985], Babajana [1988], Jacob Gogebashvili’s Life and Statesmanship [Iakob Gogebashvilis cxovreba da mogvaceoba, 1999]), and Levan Chkonia (Baltanosaur [Baltanozavr, 1983], Bo-Bo [1986]). They brought new vision and ideas to the art of animation. Although they graduated from the same school, their styles differ a lot. Yet they have something in common: they try to grasp the psychology of their characters, which often demands a change in the way of animation and the search for new methods. These films have broadened the understanding of the specifics and possibilities of animation. They attracted the attention of professionals and the public at large, as is evident from the award for Best Short to the film Plague at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1984. Of Dato Takaishvili’s films the most important is probably The Raven(1981-2), painted in oil on cel: it is important not only because of the revolutionary technique, but also because it matches the artistic images created by the great poets.

plagueIn the past twenty years Georgia has suffered great hardships. Of course, this affected Georgian cinema, including animation. There were periods when it seemed that Georgian cinema had vanished forever. However, a young generation of film-makers at the Academy of Arts (taught by Nana Samanishvili and Ilo Doiashvili), the University of Theater and Cinema (taught by Davit Sikharulidze and Lado Sulakvelidze), the “Abkhazeti” Film Center (studio of Gela Kandelaki) have the opportunity of acquiring a thorough knowledge of animation. In the village Nikozi (near Tskhinvali) an art school has opened, where children are taught animation alongside other arts. An animation festival is held in Batumi (the “Tofuzi” International Festival). Besides, in September 2011 the first international festival of animation films will be held in Nikozi. Recently, Georgia has become a full member of Eurimages. Thanks to the support of the Georgian National Film Center, Georgian feature, documentary and animation films are being made and achieve success at international festivals.

Currently several animation films are in production: The Lamp (Natura) by Davit Kopaleishvili (studio “Reality”); White Flower and White Butterfly (Tetri kvavili da tetri pepela) by Malkhaz Kukhianidze (GFM Studio); Grandma (Bebo) by Sandro Katamashvili (20 Steps Film); Two Butterflies (Ori pepela) by Ilo Doiashvili (Art Parallel); and Deceitful Teacher (Crupentela agmzrdeli), a full-length animation film by Dato Sikhatulidze based on Vazha-Pshavela’s literary works. Besides, the studio “Kvali XXI” at the “Abkhazia” Film Center is producing a 30-minute animation film, The Last Letter (Ukanaskneli cerili), reflecting Vincent van Gogh’s spiritual world (directed by Paata Shengelia). I also have been granted the opportunity of making a 12-minute animation, The Tiger and the Man (Vefkhvi da mokme), based on a Georgian folk poem. In addition to the above-mentioned, there are numerous interesting ideas and projects. Thus, Georgian animation has been revived—and let’s hope that it will have a glorious future!