The Svaneti film team is ready!

Who is the Svaneti team? It consists of Nana Mghebrishvili and her friend Mari Papidze, who graduated from CSJMM in June, along with myself and my wife, Susanna Melo. The two vivacious women met with Susanna and me in our living room. They were our first guests. We talked over a glass of wine because Mari’s mom sent us a gift—a large Pepsi bottle filled with red wine made from grapes grown on the property around their village home.

One of the first items of business was to decide how we would travel to Adishi. We could fly for 40 lari each way ($24), or take an overnight train for 15 lari ($9), or we could take a mini-bus for 30 lari ($18). The mini-bus takes 12-14 hours and I’m told the roads are horrendous. The train leaves at 11pm and arrives at 6am; then you wait and get a mini-bus into the capital of Svaneti—Mestia. The plane is an hour flight, but there’s transportation to the airport and waiting at the airport. Plus it’s a little plane and it doesn’t fly in bad weather. We’re going by train and returning by plane (I think).

When was easy. We’re leaving Friday evening. Both women work for The Financial, a weekly magazine (http://www.finchannel.com/). They each must write four articles per week. Their boss gave them a week off, not because he is particularly generous to his employees, but because the publication is soon going to add video to its website, and he expects Nana and Mari to learn a lot about shooting and editing during our time together. So we have a week.

Another issue was where to stay once we arrive. I was surprised to hear that we could/would simply knock on someone’s door and they would put us up in their home. “Really???!!!” Susanna and I asked. Yes, they responded. Welcoming strangers into one’s home, even overnight, is part of the famous Georgian hospitality and it is particularly important in the mountains. But we’ll try to make some arrangements when we arrive in Mestia.

We also talked about what our film would show. Last year Nana and a friend shot and edited a film about women’s status in Svaneti. It is an interesting and well-made film. In Nana’s film, the people talk to the camera (the audience) and explain the challenges and pleasures of being a woman and living in the mountains. In our film, I explained, the people will only talk with each other; the film crew will try to be “invisible.” Our film will show how people live in a beautiful but harsh environment.

The big question, of course, is why? Why are we making this film, other than it will be an interesting and fun experience. The answer is because we want to tell a story. Just to ensure there would be no misunderstanding, I explained that a story is a narrative or plot; it has characters, who encounter some obstacle, and then attempt to overcome the difficulty. Ideally, during the filming, neither the people involved nor the filmmakers know how the story will end; in other words, there is suspence. One possible story (but a better one may arise) is that Adishi and its neighboring towns have been losing people because it is difficult to earn a living in the area, the winters are very cold and snowy, and Tbilisi offers more exciting opportunities. I’m not sure, but Adishi may be down to six families, so the story might simply be: Will Adishi (the film’s “character”) continue to exist or will it disappear? In the next 11 months, will anyone be born in Adishi? Will anyone die? Will anyone move away, and why? Will anyone move into Adishi, and why? Of course, it is possible that during the next 11 months nothing will happen to the main character (Adishi), so it will be good to have a Plan B.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Every night that we go out to dinner, we seem to receive some free entertainment. It might be a nearby table of youth who are singing, a video of traditional Georgian dancing, or this party of people dancing while we ate. We had a delicious meal of eggplant filled with walnuts in a sauce and seasoned with garlic; beans-in-a-pot; tomato and cucumber salad; and chicken livers with onions. All of the credit for this image goes to my favorite photography student.

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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