What would you do?

Keith Kenney and Sopho Altunashvili on the set of "Life is Beautiful"

You live in Georgia. You’re enjoying a vacation in Poti with your one-and-a-half year old daughter. Suddenly your country is at war with Russia. It’s 3:00 a.m. and bombs are exploding in your area. You try to shield your child by covering her with your body. It seems that Georgia is about to lose everything. A few days later, the war ends and you return home. Then what do you do?

Nino Kajaia did something unusual. She thought of the movie, Life is Beautiful, by Roberto Benigni (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118799/). She understands there are problems—the news media are always reporting crimes and disasters—but we are alive, and we have our children, and . . . life is beautiful. Because of Nino’s experience in the war, and her memory of Benigni’s movie, she suggested that Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB) create a talk show about the positive things in life. No politicians. Guests would only come from the cultural and entertainment fields. And the name of the show would be Life is Beautiful.

I met Nino in a GPB studio and we talked before taping for two new shows. Sopho Altunashvili, coordinator of an MA program in the Caucasus School of  Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM), is the show’s producer. She invited the first-year students of this program to see how a talk show is planned and recorded. CSJMM students stayed on and became the show’s audience. For the first segment of the first show, they saw 10 Georgian singers who have become celebrities because they are working with 10 Armenian singers for performances and recordings. There was not enough seating space for the 10 guests and host because the set includes an armchair for Nino, and a couch and a loveseat. Suddenly—bang!—one of the singers fell off the back of the loveseat and everyone roared with laughter. I asked Sopho how she would edit that mishap; she said it was funny, so she’d leave it in if she had good video of the incident. I’m sure she’ll have good video because the director uses six cameras to film the show.

The talk show has lived up to its name—it has made some lives more “beautiful.” One girl, for example, lost her hearing at age 11 and would soon lose her ability to speak unless a special operation was performed. The operation was expensive—40,000 GEL ($24,000). In the spring, Nino appealed to her audience for help and she launched a fundraising campaign. That summer a famous doctor promised to attempt the operation. During the fall season, the girl was the first guest on Life is Beautiful. When she could hear and respond to Nino’s questions, it was a special, emotional moment.


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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