Multi-awarded Georgian filmmaker Salomé Jashi delivered a masterclass on Thursday, June 22nd, at the cultural center "Melina Mercouri, within the framework of the top-notch international meeting CIRCLE Women Doc Accelerator, hosted at the 2nd Evia Film Project.
The acclaimed filmmaker analyzed her award-winning film, Taming the Garden, as a case study, which was screened on Wednesday June 21st, at the “Apollon” cinema in Edipsos.
The moderator of the discussion, Biljana Tutorov, initially took the floor, welcoming the audience and referring to the goals and the perspective of the CIRCLE Women Doc Accelerator. "This is a new endeavor, and we ourselves are still in the process of adaptation. We provide an opportunity for ten participants from around the world to showcase their work, seek advice and guidance, and discuss the challenges they face. The fundamental concepts that drive our efforts are solidarity and the exchange of perspectives, with the ultimate goal of achieving the best possible development for all projects," she stated before passing the baton to Salomé Jashi, who first addressed the broader challenges faced by filmmakers in Georgia.
"The truth is that conditions in Georgia are not exactly ideal. First of all, there is only one source of funding, the National Film Centre of Georgia, but it is not as independent as it should be. In recent years, the situation has worsened, as I can attest from my personal experiences with Taming the Garden. Many criticized the film, claiming that it exposes the country, and arguing that films like this should not receive funding. As you can imagine, filmmakers are pushed into a very unpleasant situation where they are forced to defend themselves for the obvious," she said before sharing with the audience how the initial idea behind Taming the Garden was born.
"The first spark came through an unthinkable story that I, like the rest of the country, was following on television. A deeply wealthy man of unknown origin, who managed to become the country's prime minister a few years later, was buying century-old trees from impoverished coastal communities in Georgia, with the intention of transplanting them into his luxurious garden. The image of an imposing tree traveling on the sea fascinated me from the very beginning, in a twofold way. On one hand, it was a truly magical and poetic moment. On the other hand, it emanated a sickening sense and an underlying tone of fear. This image sparked many thoughts within me, and those trees traveling on the sea, detached from their natural environment, became an allegorical symbol for the display of power, for the metaphorical uprooting of the pillars of a civilization, for the forced migration of the weak, and for the existential loneliness of those who seemingly have it all. I realized the multiple values that trees represent for all of us. Trees provide assurance and stability, a sense of roots and origin," she explained.
Immediately afterwards, Salomé Jashi spoke about how she has evolved as a filmmaker over time. "In the past, I relied heavily on first impressions and initial emotions. However, while filming Taming the Garden, I learned to be more flexible and realized that complex issues often have multiple interpretations. When I started shooting, I had a highly critical disposition, not only towards the tree buyer but also towards those who were selling them. But by talking to them and seeing their living conditions up close, I realized that I couldn't judge these people from my privileged position. The objective of the film was not to be accusatory and critical, but to depict a fragile social condition that is perpetuated and brings no real benefits to the less privileged," she commented.
"When we arrived at one of the communities where the locals sell their trees, they initially thought that we were potential buyers. I still get emotional when I remember the disappointment on their faces when they realized we were there to shoot a film. It was then that I first sensed the ethical complexities inherent in the process of creating a documentary. Rarely do I have something predetermined in my mind, but what we see on the screen is never entirely spontaneous. We set up a scene, we intervene in reality, and we create an environment where situations, conflicts, and intense moments arise. Many times, you are called upon to make weighty decisions in split seconds, which may lead you down a completely different path. During the shooting, I rely heavily on my team, and when I enter the editing room, I already have the film envisioned in mind. The editors I collaborate with are always from abroad, which helps me gain a different perspective, outside my personal frame of reference," she explained regarding the preparation of her projects.
Next, Salomé Jashi showed the audience a short clip from her film, The Dazzling Light of Sunset, while discussing her aesthetic and stylistic approach. "According to my perspective, every frame counts and signifies something. After completing the shooting, I choose certain pivotal scenes that serve as the backbone of the film and I build everything else around them. I never start filming as soon as I arrive at the location. I always take some time to listen to the people and feel the dynamics of the place. The issue is how we depict something, not just what we show. I strive to compose shots that trigger an emotional and intellectual process. The goal is to immerse the viewer in a sense of pace. Once the camera finds its own POV, we must let it follow its own path. My greatest influences have been my former professor, Gideon Koppel, who taught me the importance of evocation, as well as the importance of structuring your film on narrative layers, as well as the director Sergey Dvortsevoy from Kazakhstan."
Answering questions from the audience, Salomé Jashi talked about her personal involvement in the production of the films, as well as her future plans. "Whenever I fill out applications for funding or grants and I'm required to write what my film is about, I realize that the process helps me map out what I have in my mind. By participating in the production and preliminary research, I somehow secure my position towards the film's main funders. As for my upcoming plans, after the long international journey of Τaming the Garden and the recent dramatic developments in Ukraine, I felt the need for a small detox break. My next project revolves around the notion of the archive and will be less demanding compared to my previous works," concluded Salomé Jashi, presenting to the audience a short clip from her first film titled Bakhmaro.
CIRCLE Women Doc Accelerator is a specialized documentary development workshop addressed to women identifying producers and directors.
Evia Film Project is the Festival’s third pillar of activities, following the International Thessaloniki Film Festival, held in November, and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, held in March. Its goal is to consolidate Northern Evia, a region severely hit by the 2021 calamitous wildfires, as an international hub of green cinema. Evia Film Project is actualized with the support of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, within the framework of the Reconstruction Plan for Northern Evia, in collaboration with the Region of Central Greece, the Greek Film Centre, the Municipality of Istiea-Edipsos, the Municipality of Mantoudi-Limni-Agia Anna, and the Evia Port Authority (OLNE SA). The Thessaloniki Film Festival collaborates with the production organizations that are based in Evia and the Department of Digital Arts and Cinema of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Psachna.