Mariam Khatchvani • Founder and artistic director, Svaneti International Film Festival


– The filmmaker talks to us about the future of the festival she created

Mariam Khatchvani • Founder and artistic director, Svaneti International Film Festival

Mariam Khatchvani, Georgian director of the acclaimed feature Dede [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
about the mountainous Svaneti region where she was born, turns her attention to film festivals. During its second edition, the Svaneti International Film Festival – co-founded with Teimuraz Chkhvimiani – held a short film competition and a pitching session of upcoming Georgian projects, judged by an international jury, as well as a slew of masterclasses and special screenings, including Brighton 4th [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Levan Koguashvili
film profile
]
.

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Cineuropa: I would be curious to know what was the first idea behind the decision to found a film festival. What were you trying to achieve?
Mariam Khatchvani: When we first started to dream about it, we wanted to establish the Svaneti Residency. I myself have taken part in similar initiatives, like Cannes’ Cinefondation for example, and writing in Ushguli [a community of five villages] is just the best. You can really relax here, it’s the most beautiful, most authentic place. People who work in cinema, who write or direct, they need to escape from all the noise, I think, to be able to focus on their projects. When I am in Svaneti, I always come up with good ideas.

Last year, this residency focused solely on Georgian filmmakers, also because of budget constraints. It was the same this year, but we would certainly like to open it up to international participants in the future. We want to develop the industry part too, because that’s what we need in Georgia. We need this platform. It would be good to invite international industry players and introduce them to Georgian filmmakers. These plans are still in the very early stages, but I hope we will find our way within the next few years.

It’s interesting, being here and seeing the posters of Dede just about everywhere, hearing local people talk about it. You had so much international success with that film. Do you think it helped when establishing this event?
It helped me a lot. I got the support from the Ministry of Culture, from the National Tourism Administration of Georgia and the Georgian National Film Center. They knew me already and they believed I might be able to create a nice film festival. Tourists like to watch Dede here in Svaneti, because it shows this place and its culture. You can see how life used to be here and still is sometimes. I have to say that I don’t want to focus just on the festival and completely forget about my profession. Last year and now, during that second edition, I put a lot of energy into it. But I am hoping that at one point, my staff will take over.

What will you focus on next, you think? This year you are showing mostly short films, but the opening film was Brighton 4th, introduced by its director Levan Koguashvili.
Having short films in the competition, as well as developing an industry event, maybe later we will add another competition. Short films work very well with the local audience, showing them also allows us to invite some young directors. They get inspired by what they see. I really think that’s how they should start their careers: by making short films. Now, at least here, it’s not the case – they immediately want to make features. But it just doesn’t work! That’s how I started out and it helped me a lot.

Were the locals always supportive of this initiative?
I think they are happy there is a festival here, but people don’t go to the cinema that often in Georgia – at least not to watch arthouse films. Which, obviously, is not great. We need to encourage them, show them all these good films and maybe they will remember it later?

Last year’s edition was complicated because of the pandemic, we had to change our dates. Now, in the summer, we started outdoor screenings to “invite” people – this way, they don’t feel too pressured. They can just come and check it out, and if they like what they see, they will head to the cinema next. It takes time to get people’s attention, but I can also say that this year, more locals were coming to our screenings. We had more press coverage this year as well. Hopefully, it will continue this way.

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