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It’s impossible to spend any time at all in Georgia without wanting to know more and more about this amazing place. They long for the city, where they managed to scrape some kind of living, and there were distractions. Accompanying All Day Strolling at the festival was the longer English Teacher, directed by Nino Orjonikidze and Vano Arsenishvili. There’s lots of gentle humour in his attempts to enthuse his young pupils, as well as the older villagers who decide to give it a try. Novikova’s film is a devastating study of three individuals in old age in different parts of Europe talking about the effects on their lives of wars in which they have not been active participants, but which have come to their homes and into their lives and almost destroyed them. You feel that any specifics are incidental, no malice or blame attached to any side, but here the situation in Abkhazia, like the more recent fighting in Ossetia, is a raw open wound in a complicated and ongoing political situation. Of course this only underlines the extra dimension of seeing films at a festival far away from one’s own political and cultural situation.
Down my steep street past the smells of wood-smoke and fresh bread of a subterranean baker’s with a clay oven, and I’m suddenly on the elegant but traffic-mad main Rustaveli Boulevard, where an old man is selling bunches of long-stemmed wild violets out of cut-down soft drink bottles by the subway steps, alongside a woman with an array of thick handknitted socks. On the thronged pavement people of all ages momentarily halt to turn and cross themselves as they pass the Kashveti Church across the street.
A small child lies, well-wrapped, on a blanket in the middle of the broad tree-lined pavement with a begging bowl by his head.
A group of young men cheerfully manhandle a car that’s stuck and causing gridlock at a junction.
Maybe it’s this taste of Tbilisi life that makes me look kindly upon Zaza Urushadze’s The Guardian, a Georgian feature film I picked at random. Populist also but serious in intent were the Georgian films of eighty years ago, and a real gem of a screening is the presentation of four propaganda films out of the Georgian Film Archive, originally produced as ‘culturally instructive’ for the hearts and minds of the workers. An enthusiastic audience crowded into the small Rustaveli Cinema 5, complete with a superb, very modern, musical accompaniment from composer and saxophonist Rezo Kiknadze and the Consilia Ensemble. Within the supposed framework of a radio broadcast Ten Minutes of Morning (Sandro Jaliashvili) was in effect the equivalent of a Breakfast TV work-out. The older generation don’t come out of it too well – a gap-toothed grand-dad is continually reprimanded by his precocious grandson about such faux pas as failing to wash his hands after the loo or clean his teeth (too late!), or searching for a cobweb (none to be found in this socialistically clean house!) to apply to a cut.
The earnestness and almost intoxication of these young film-makers with the brave new world of socialist ideals and their respect for labour and the working man is seductive, even with cynical hindsight.
The Festival closed with its awards ceremony on December 8, the Golden Prometheus going to Polish director Slawomir Fabicki’s Loving, the Silver Prometheus for best director to Giorgy Parajanov for Everybody’s Gone, with a Special Mention for Children of Sarajevo. During the recent upgrade of the Film Lounge the punctuation in some reviews written between 2002 and 2004 was corrupted.
We are currently in the process of identifying the errors and amending the reviews in question.
Our newsletter for January 2014 … I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year! Filming in Kenya · Vision Maker Media Funding for The California Tribal Justice Project  · An Exultation of California Indian Languages · Speaking Our Mother Tongues at the Language Is Life Conference. A week before Joan Churchill and I were scheduled to fly to Nairobi to film with Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu, a fire destroyed much of Nairobi airport. On our first shoot day, we drove out to Nyeri, a rough 2.5 hour drive to the family’s ancestral homeland in the heart of green and blooming Kikuyu country.
Our van broke down on the way, but we finally arrived at a lovely farm owned by Wangechi’s parents.
There we had the awesome surprise of filming Wangechi’s discovery of a giant leather portfolio containing a treasure trove of her childhood art, most of it from her teenage years. Half an hour further, we came to her grandmother’s house, where we filmed an intense, revealing and emotional conversation about The Emergency, the time of the Mau Mau insurgency in the 1950s when the British removed the family and their whole community from their lands. Wangechi’s grandmother showed us how the missionaries had forced her and other girls to sew up their ears and to renounce other traditional ways. Fortunately when Kenyan independence came, they were able to move back and now are prospering.
During the next two days, we had rich and insightful interviews with each of Wangechi’s parents. After the interviews, we drove out to the Catholic school Wangechi attended from kindergarten through what we would call sophomore year in high school.
We had a wonderful stay at the Leakey’s sprawling compound, sleeping under mosquito netting and meeting with Richard, his wife Maeve, and their awesome daughter Louise, who was Wangechi’s elementary school classmate. On the last day of this visit, Wangechi told Richard Leakey how inspired she felt, being at the Turkana Basin Institute, not just because she was visiting old friends, but because she could begin to really envision how she might set up an art center in Kenya, a place that could be self-sustaining and would offer much needed time and space to artists in a peaceful and inspiring place.
Back in Nairobi, visited friends of Wangechi’s who recently founded an art center there called The Nest. It seems that the ‘prodigal daughter’ found tremendous inspiration and encouragement during the trip. From Wangechi Mutu’s Tree of Life series, as shown at the Susan Vielmetter Gallery in Los Angeles. On Saturday morning,  American Film Showcase expert Alan Baker and I took a trip up the Rio Negro to the ‘meeting of the waters,’ where the light brown Amazon meets the chocolate colored Rio Negro.
In the early evening we had our Amazonas Film Festival screening of We Still Live Here at the Teatro Guarany, part of a cultural center in a beautiful old Palacio built by an Austrian rubber barren in the 19th century. To my amazement, Jeff had brought copies of a beautiful book on Edward Curtis called Sacred Legacy to give as gifts to our hosts. Several people asked about what it was like to work with the Wampanoag; how I balanced an anthropological view with storytelling. A psychologist in the audience, who was clearly very moved by the film, said that by letting the souls of the Wampanoag shine through, my own soul shone through, and that in doing this I was helping to restore them. Through the film, I think the audience became more aware that there is tremendous diversity in Native American cultures, that there are Indian people in the Northeast as well as the American West, and that the process of colonization seems to be the same sad story everywhere – first friendship and gifts, then a shift in the balance of power that enables colonizers to oppress indigenous people and impose their religion, language and culture on them, seize their lands, and disenfranchise them. After the screening, exhausted and elated, I relaxed a bit outside the Palacio, then rested up for our next adventure, a long trip into the Amazon rain forest to visit the Huni Kuin tribe.
On Monday, we set out on an expedition that would turn out to be the most moving and beautiful of the whole Brazilan experience. After a four hour flight to the frontier town of Rio Branco, followed by six hours on rough road, we reached the town of Tarauaca to rest up for our visit to an indigenous tribe called the Huni Kuin, or True People, on the Pinuya reserve.
On the long drive, we saw what had happened to most of the Huni Kuin’s territory — herds of cattle grazing on ranch land that settlers had burned out of the forest. There were lots of speeches and oration, and then I was called upon to tell the group about We Still Live Here. When the speeches were over, our US embassy host once again presented a gift of Sacred Legacy, a beautiful book of Edward Curtis photographs for which I had written the Afterword. I noticed that many of the Huni Kuin were recording the various speeches on their smart phones, a wonderful example of technology preserving traditional ways. The medicine man gave us each a wonderful gift — eye drops that he extracted from a medicinal plant that felt lovely and clarifying. The Huni Kuin have only had protected land since 1972, and they are trying hard to reforest the parts of their reserve that were burned down by ranchers.
In the late afternoon, Angelina Smid and I joined in a fast-paced dance that was so much like the one that the Wampanoag do at the end of We Still Live Here — a line that snakes around and in on itself. We were all exhausted at this point, which was around 6pm, the time we were scheduled to leave, but as it turned out the trucks had all disappeared — apparently the drivers had decided to give some of the Huni Kuin a ride somewhere.
It had been such an amazing and moving day that I didn’t mind the rough road or the long drive one bit. In the morning, Marcos gave us a tour of his wonderful Forest Library, which is clearly a collaboration with various indigenous tribes from the state of Acre. We were very fortunate to be in Rio Branco during the terrific Pachamama Film Festival, a festival that features films about indigenous communities. At the reception after the screening, so many people came up to me to talk about the film and all they had learned, about Native Americans and about themselves. I think the film inspired many people in the audience to think about their own history of colonialism.

After our adventures in Manaus, Pinuya, and Rio Branco, arriving in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia was like landing on the moon. The Memorial is a beautifully done museum showcasing 55 of Brazil’s 280 indigenous cultures, with fantastic exhibits and continuously running films.
I was really happy to have someone from the indigenous community of Karaja near Mato Grosso in the audience — Maria Espirito Santo Borges Takahashi, what a wonderful name! Jeff Lodermeir, our host from the embassy, presented a copy of Sacred Legacy to Tania Primo, the wonderful director of the museum, with our terrific interpreter Claudia Chauvet looking on. For those of you who read this far, thank you for taking this wonderful trip with me, and Happy Holidays to you all! My first American Showcase event was a presentation of We Still Live Here at Burch University, a primarily Muslim institution founded by Turks and Bosnians just outside Sarajevo. The students were intrigued by the film’s story and intently interested in the film clips I showed, but my most memorable moment was an interview with a young undergraduate, Eldin Milak, whose comments and questions were among the most incisive and intelligent of any interview I have had so far. On Wednesday, we drove through green mountains and rolling farm country to Tuzla in the northeastern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Then we zoomed over to the American Corner in Tuzla, an embassy-sponsored program at libraries throughout the country.
After the screening, the intense young woman asked me privately if there was any kind of therapy that would help her get over her fear of making the kind of films that were in her head – apparently thrillers and horror films – because she thought she would repel and lose her friends.
We spent that night in a lovely hotel overlooking Lake Modrac, resting up for the next day of screenings and workshops. In the morning, we drove a short way to Doboj where I did another presentation for the American Corners in the city’s library. Luckily my hosts at the apartment where I’m lodging fill me in every night (along with generous glasses of Georgian wine) on recent history and politics. With nothing to do and no question of work in this godforsaken place, where goats now occupy some of the derelict buildings and bears are not too far away, there’s nothing to do but spend all day strolling among the scrabbly and often dangerous relics of unfinished building work surrounded by wild mountains.
Young men offer ironic comments on their situation, an old lady keeps up appearances in her makeup and high heels teetering over broken concrete. But ultimately as he fails to make much progress, recognising he has no real support from the (apparently) friendly staff members, and seeing the exam marks shamelessly fiddled to prove success for the scheme, he wonders quite what he’s doing here. Catalan Victorino recalls the Civil War which came to his mountain village in his childhood and depopulated the area. The camera fixes on their faces and will gaze away to show their meagre surroundings, witnesses for the many forgotten millions like them. At any rate, in a crammed cinema it was the liveliest and roughest Q&A I’ve ever attended! Every film has potentially a slightly different flavour when it’s in a new, unknown milieu, and part of watching films alongside local people at a festival is in coming to some kind of terms with life as it is lived there, not back home.
Workmen scramble around putting up sections of a huge conical Christmas tree in front of the handsome parliament building in Liberty Square, scene of violent political confrontations and even deaths during recent years.
Smart young photographers cluster importantly in front of a new phone shop that could be in Oxford St: Beeline, all fashionable yellow and white minimalist design with sparkly white santa-figures across the windows.
At the heaving bus stop the electronic sign is all in Georgian lettering, except for the word ‘AIRPORT’. On the steps of the old Academy of Sciences, antique daggers, artists’ materials, rams-horn drinking vessels, icons, felt hats and well-thumbed books are laid out for sale, to the tunes of a one-man-band.
The subways, the only ways of crossing the wide teeming avenue, are lined with small shops selling shoes, clothes, books, snacks, icons, bags, stationery. It’s a daft story, but has its charms, and Jimmy Nail look-alike leading man Misha Mesxi carries it all pretty well as Gogliko. The plot’s wobbly as anything, the humour at times crass, but there’s a certain dashing quality to the direction, and putting ‘normal’ Georgian life on the screen, it’s the kind of middle-of-the-road film that could tickle the fancy of local audiences who might want a change from the diet of dubbed Hollywood fare. What a shame a larger space couldn’t be used, for the appetite for historic films like this, so rarely seen, is clearly enormous. Surprisingly sexist, the film shows men in a workers’ dormitory rising up eagerly to obey the radio’s call en masse, while women are represented by one single comely lady exercising (rather less energetically) in her bedroom. Its didactic purpose underlined by its framing within a scene of workers entering a hall to view the film itself, it takes a lighthearted tone to correct bad old ideas about hygiene and health.
While one gets down to communal hard work, a key worker on the other side takes time off to attend his mate’s daughter’s wedding, with comically catastrophic results as the wine takes its toll. Many of them went on to produce further documentary and feature films, Dolidze right up to the 1980s, though Mikaberidze, the most innovative, was more than once suspected of anti-Soviet agitation and served three years in prison in the 1950s. The Georgian Panorama Award for best Georgian film was won by The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, a first documentary feature from the young director Tinatin Gurchiani. But be sure to click and reveal the full newsletter which has live links to video clips for the new projects, as well as a slideshow from an early short. Landing at Nairobi airport was chaotic, but we arrived and settled in to our lovely rooms at the Tribe Hotel.
They were told that this was for their own safety, but the family knew it was so the British could keep tabs on the Kikuyu and control any contact with the Mau Mau.
Mutu pointed out that while he doesn‘t really understand his daughter’s art, he believes that the work is important social commentary that inspires dialogue about issues crucial to all Africans. The best moment was when she and her school friend Jeri burst into Amazing Grace in Kikuyu in the school’s chapel. We were headed to the Turkana Basin Institute to visit Wangechi Mutu’s mentor, renowned paleontologist Richard Leakey. Leakey about the work of Wildlife Direct, an organization he founded which focuses on stopping the poaching of elephants for ivory. When she wanted to leave Kenya for art school in New York, he gave her a scholarship that covered her first year at Parsons, and so began her international career. They had a lively discussion about the burgeoning art scene in Kenya, and about possibilities for living as an artist there. She reconnected with old friends, explored the local art scene, and found a warm welcome with her family. 2013 will be an exciting one here at Makepeace Productions, with several of my older films taking on new life in the digital world, and a bunch of new projects percolating. Along the way we saw dolphins and iguanas, and even a sloth and baby alligator brought out to our boat by an Indian couple. Of course the Guarany are an indigenous tribe of Paraguay and Brazil, so the name of the theater was very appropriate for the film. He had no idea that I had actually written the afterword to to the book a few years after my film on Edward Curtis came out.
Our host Suzy Osaqui had done a heroic job of publicizing the event, so we had an excellent crowd despite the fact that it was the Saturday of a six-day weekend.
One person (pictured below with microphone) spoke of an Amazon tribe that years ago had hidden out in the midst another tribe, successfully pretending to be extinct so they would be left alone.
I answered that I am a storyteller, not an anthropologist, though very interested in cross cultural issues. That was a bit too much for me; I said my job was to just get out of the way and let the story unfold.
On a more hopeful note, the film provided an inspiring story that reminded them of the resilience of indigenous cultures, both in our country and theirs. Today there are approximately 10,000 Huni Kuin living on twelve reserves in the state of Acre, which borders on Bolivia and Peru. It was odd to me not to be showing the film and letting it speak for itself, but I did my best and the tribal members were really moved by it’s wonderful story of cultural resilience. Chief Assis Gomes and other Huni Kuin were interested in seeing Curtis’s images of their North American relatives. After watching them, I looked closely at all the fabulously colorful designs they had woven into headbands, bracelets, necklaces, ankle bracelets, earrings, and clothing, all so intricate and beautiful. They also received a huge Mercedes truck as a gift from an NGO to help them become more self-sustaining economically, a problem since much of their land base was burned out and taken over by ranchers. Each of the two attaches from the embassy in Brasilia thought the other had it, or that I had brought it from Manaus.

Angelina on the phone with Brasilia, Samuel working his cyber magic, John and Marcos very worried. There were filmmakers from Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and other Latin American countries, also anthropologists and linguists and regular community members, kids and adults, and all seemed just tremendously excited and inspired by the film. On a more positive light, the current government is trying to return some of the land to forest, and has established protected areas for many of the indigenous communities.
The city is all 1960s modern, from the Catholic cathedral to the wonderful Auditorio do Memorial dos Povos Indigenas where we screened We Still Live Here on our last night in Brazil. The audience was small, only about 20 people, despite heroic efforts on the part of the embassy staff to publicize the event; but the small size allowed the film to inspire a real conversation, a passionate discussion of indigenous issues. She was just glowing with enthusiasm after the screening, and her comments were profound and moving.
Everyone at the screening said they were intensely affected by the film, and some even said that they would leave the museum changed by it, that it had made them think deeply and in new ways about their own history and about the indigenous cultures in their midst.
My hotel was in the old part of town, right next to Roman ruins, Bosnian mosques, and Orthodox churches.
Almost all of the tombstones were dated in the early to mid 90s, many of them of young people killed during the war. The diverse and mostly young audience packed the room, watched the film intently, and were very enthusiastic after the screening.
So I’m pleased that my first Georgian films are a couple of documentaries dealing with two salient current issues. Lithuanian Agota recalls her homeland being taken over and bossed by Poles, then Germans, Soviets, and even Lithuanian partisans. An old woman in black offers for sale thin deep-yellow candles, sausage-like strings of walnuts set in dark grape jelly, a crabby collection of apples, little plastic pots of black sunflower seeds, and a basket of huge radishes.
He’s a naive, cheeky ex-con trying to cope with life outside bars in the new Georgia, where things have changed more than he anticipated. It may not be arthouse, or very exportable, but the making of this kind of movie is a sign of health in a film culture.
There’s a deal of semi-clothed flesh which in the bedroom situation looks almost titillating, another surprise, but in the end (a long time coming — ‘ten minutes’ is hardly accurate), she joins the most athletic of the men and both perform in tandem. Shvelidze with his nice feel for humour disappears after Collective Farmers’ Hygiene until brief mentions during the same decade. Messages of support from ministers of the newly elected government, a wealth of young Georgian talent and enthusiastically crowded screenings hopefully suggest the festival will go on from strength to strength on the European film festival scene. There, she talked about her dream of founding an art center in Kenya where she and other artists could live and work for parts of the year. In picture are Anne, Justin doing sound, Joan shooting, Wangechi with Wathira, and Wangechi’s mother. I was very curious to know how they felt about Wangechi’s challenging and often disturbing art. He also helped her in her grueling attempts to secure a green card, which finally happened less than a year ago, enabling her at last to travel home to Kenya. Through the decades, they had retained their language and culture, and now were revitalizing it among their people and letting it be known that they are still here. I asked the chief if the Huni Kuin had a message for the Wampanoag, and several members spoke for a long time about the importance of language and culture, of how impressed they were by the Wampanoags’ courage and persistence in bringing back the language. There was lots of ceremony around the receiving of the truck, and I think we were undeserving beneficiaries of their gratitude for this. Finally Marcos reached one of them by cell phone, and it turned out they were stuck in the thick mire about half a mile away. The film left the audience with a deeper appreciation of the huge diversity and the value of indigenous communities, and perhaps with a more profound understanding of the relationship between language and culture. The museum staff is working with many communities, and I was excited to learn that a major emphasis of both the exhibits and the museum’s educational programs is about preserving and revitalizing languages. Here she is looking for, and then finding, the name of her community among the hundreds written on the wall of the museum. These cemeteries are everywhere, constant reminders, along with the bullet and shrapnel-ridden buildings, of the suffering that took place here in the 1990s. Akbarov, who presented me with an historical document written in the original Bosnian language, a language apparently much changed since the Ottoman Turks colonized the area in the 1400s. I was struck by the friendly reception we had there, by the openness of both boys and girls, the latter wearing colorful hijabs and radiant smiles. At first, it was difficult to get them to participate in the discussion, partly because they were shy about their English skills but also because the subject of colonization and ethnic tension is so politically charged for them. Ninety-year-old Aivaz was as a small child an Armenian refugee from Turkey whose family settled in Abkhazia (now a disputed, self-proclaimed independent, Russian-supported area of Georgia), where he still lives in a tumbledown hut, tending goats.
Watch your step over the pavement that occasionally rears up where a plane-tree root has broken through or the stones have crumbled away.
At the side of the pavement further on stands a man with a cardboard box at his feet, filled with fresh grass, in which huddle up two tiny, dark-grey rabbits.
Made in a monopolistic situation where the state alone controlled what was filmed and shown, two dealt with the healthy and fit body, two with society. How different from the romantic Riefenstahl ideal of elite beautiful bodies wreathed in the mist of myth and bogus history. What Goes Around Comes Around (Kote Mikaberidze and Vasil Dolenko) far more abstractly sings the praises of agricultural mechanisation, a poem to machines that delights in its own images: seed drills, ploughs, the plants themselves rising uniformly from the soil like a well-bidden army.
This is just a glimpse into the range of important films kept by the Archive, most in need of preservation and crying out to be shown to larger audiences. Wangechi’s mother admitted that she can’t look at much of it and doesn’t’ really understand it, but is proud of her daughter nonetheless. The speaker seemed elated that a similar story to We Still Live Here was happening right here in his country. While the Huni Kuin still have many speakers, they know that they will have to fight for their language and culture to survive. We slogged through the mud, which caked our shoes about 2” thick, and got to the trucks around 7pm for our 6 hour drive back to Rio Branco. I also learned from the exhibits that 70% of indigenous Brazilian languages have disappeared, so there is a true crisis of culture loss. They seemed really engaged with We Still Live Here, though they were shy about asking questions. A teacher spoke about the original Bosnian language and about the poetry found in documents that are now being studied. Verbal fireworks break out at the Q&A afterwards, as some of the audience take objection to the mention of Georgians as aggressors in Abkhazia 20 years ago. Along one section it’s been replaced by creaky untrustworthy decking that shudders as you walk over it. The impressive glass-fronted Philharmonic Concert Hall rises above, then it’s into the cinema: popcorn, fizzy drinks, burgers, coffee shop, all the usual paraphernalia of any cinema in any European city. And when humans appear they move with the precision of machines: hands sorting, a whole community moving as one to remove locusts from crops or pick grubs off leaves. I suddenly understood why the film was invited to Brazil; the story of We Still Live Here with its message of hope and inspiration is as relevant and important for Brazilians as for Americans. A debate raged between those who thought that colonists did come to the Americas to convert the Indians, and those who felt that Christianity was just a ruse to steal lands from the natives.
To an onlooker it’s shocking that a film that seems to go out of its way not to apportion blame anywhere has struck this bitter chord. Luciky, 1400 miles away in Brasilia, Jeff was able to upload the file at the embassy, our computer savvy translator Samuel Alves downloaded it and we had the film.
I thought they were both right, and was really thrilled to watch this conversation and to see the level of passionate ideas that seeing the film had raised there.

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