Capturing (too much) good video

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Mari Papidze viewed the six tapes from our autumn video shoot in Svaneti. In truth, Mari viewed, reviewed, re-reviewed, and re-re-viewed the tapes to ensure that we transferred the most useful parts into my computer. I was soooo pleasantly surprised to see that Mari and Nana Mghebrishvili had shot such great video. I can’t understand Georgian, but knowing the Adishi residents and looking at their interviews, I could “see” their character quite well. Because each interview was conducted in a different (and interesting) location, I also think viewers will learn something about Adishi just from seeing the backgrounds for the interviews. But we also have action—cutting hay, hauling hay, cutting wood, milking cows, making cheese, cooking dinner, and singing in polyharmony. These are the typical autumn activities in Adishi.

The visuals are good, but so are the stories spoken by Adishi residents. I’ve only received a quick, rough translation, but I know that Georgians and Americans will both be interested in our documentary film. We’ll provide subtitles in English. For the one (so far) interview in Svan, we’ll create a second version of the film—in this version, the Svan interview will have subtitles in Georgian.

We’ve begun the long process of editing!

Story about Tamaz gains some structure

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

I knew that a film based on Tamaz Jalagania would be very interesting, but I didn’t have a story. In other words, I had a character, but no plot. Storytellers in any medium use conflicts and resolutions of those conflicts in order to capture and hold their audience’s interest. So I knew that Tamaz would be the hero who resolves all conflicts, but what are those problems, challenges, obstacles, or enemies?

After spending more time with Tamaz, I realized that the problem occurred at the national level. There was almost no one left in Georgia who could create historically accurate replicas of some important elements of its material culture: swords and guns. One of those few craftsmen is Tamaz.

So here is an outline of my story (but it will undoubtedly evolve):

•  Tamaz Jalagania or his assistants do fine detail work on a gun or sword that is almost finished. Meanwhile, Tamaz talks about how he is one of the last people in Georgia who can do this work and how he is training apprentices to continue such work.

•  Museum curators talk about the importance of artifacts for understanding Georgia’s history. I hope these people will also say that weapons, such as guns and swords, are particularly valuable artifacts because they make up a significant aspect of Georgian culture. We can show some items in the museum(s), especially guns and swords, and have the curators explain who used them, when, where, and why they were, and are important.

•  We use archive video from Georgian Public Broadcasting to show Tamaz or another craftsman making guns or swords.

•  Show souvenirs of historical guns and swords. Souvenir salespeople talk about how popular they are and how much they cost.

•  Someone says that replicas of museum-lodged historical artifacts are valuable. He/she specifically talks about the value of replicas of historic guns and swords. Tamaz talks about the gold and silver that he uses. He talks about clients for his work.

•  Tamaz and/or his apprentices make a sword/gun from start to finish. Tamaz explains how he learned to do this type of work and why the work is challenging. It takes at least six months to create such a replica. In addition, Tamaz’s three apprentices talk about their work with Tamaz.

•  Former apprentices, who have graduated, talk about what they are doing now and what, if anything, they gained by working with Tamaz. We show them at work.

•  We show other sides of Tamaz. He is not only a craftsman, but he also loves other aspects of Georgian culture. For example, he is one of the people who wears chokhas.

• We continue to develop Tamaz as the film’s primary character. We show that he is an opera singer, storyteller, and collector of antique saddles and samovars. We show that his home is like a museum.

•  Georgia’s minister of culture talks (1 minute) about Tamaz and his work. He explains that President Saakashvili buys guns and swords from Tamaz and then gives them to prominent individuals inside and outside Georgia as gifts. He talks about how Saakashvili will open a museum to display Tamaz’s work.

•  Ending. Focus on Tamaz, a lover of Georgian culture, a storyteller, a craftsman, and so on.

What is a good documentary film?

The easy answer to this question is “Any film that (your name) makes.” Most people like their creative efforts, and the more effort people make to complete a project, the more they like it. These “rules” especially apply to documentary films, which require a lot of time and a lot of money. Since filmmakers seldom earn back their investment, their primary reward is an appreciative audience. So would-be film critics should tread lightly. Critics should be especially careful if they might show their own films within the upcoming year(s).

Susanna and I saw three short documentary films by Go Group Media ( Go Group Media is an NGO in the Caucasus region that “unites professional and citizen journalists documenting real-life stories.” It has a worthy mission—challenge stereotypes, smooth tensions, and support civil leaders. I absolutely love this type of organization.

The three films were made by journalists in North and South Ossetia. North Ossetia is a republic in Russia, and South Ossetia is a disputed region that declared independence from Georgia in 1990. Georgia responded by trying to retake the region by force in 1991 and 1992. Other wars followed in 2004 and 2008 and its borders with Georgia are closed. As a result, Georgians might be uninformed or misinformed about the region.

In each film, viewers hear an individual talk about repercussions from the 1991-1992 war. The three Ossetians have suffered from the disruption to their lives and they have been hurt by insults and prejudicial actions. We can relate to them; we feel for them; but . . . . I want more. Rather than simply hearing their stories, I’d like to see their lives. If you watched the films without sound, I don’t think you’d gain an understanding of these three people. I’d also like the last two films to follow a storyline; for example, each person has a perfectly good life; then Ossetia and Georgia fight a war, which brings hardships and challenges; but then each individual uses his/her wits and hard work to meet those challenges and return to a “normal” life. The first of the films has a story, but it could be strengthened.

It’s easy to be a critic and difficult to be a filmmaker. I tip my hat to Go Group Media and hope they continue to produce documentary films–they’ve already made 200!

(My computer is very sick 😦 so there is no photo)

Svaneti website uses my press release for our Adishi film (it’s in Georgian)

დოკუმენტური ფილმი მომავალ სამთო-სათხილამურო კურორტ ადიშზე
დოქტორი ქით ქენი, სამხრეთ კაროლინის უნივერსიტეტის ვიზუალური კომუნიკაციების პროფესორი,სვანეთის მომავალ სამთო-სათხილამურო კურორტ ადიშზე დოკუმენტურ ფილმს იღებს.ქით ქენი თბილისში ჟურნალისტიკისა და მედია მენეჯმენტის კავკასიის სკოლაში(CSJMM) მუშაობს.ამავე სკოლის ორი კურსდამთავრებული ნანა მღებრიშვილი და მარიამ პაპიძეც მისი ასისტენტები არიან.გადაღებების პირველი ეტაპი უკვე დასრულდა და მაისის შუა რიცხვებსა და აგვისტოს დასაწყისში ისევ გაგრძელდება. “UNESCO-ს ვეთანხმები – ზემო სვანეთი მსოფლიოს მემკვიდრეობის ნუსხაში ყოფნას იმსახურებს, რადგან იქ არის არაჩვეულებრივი მთები, შუა საუკუნეების ტიპის სოფლები და სახლი-კოშკები. ადიშს აქვს ბრწყინვალე მდებარეობა და ჰყავს ყველაზე სტუმართმოყვარე ხალხი მთელს დედამიწაზე. მე მჯერა, რომ მომავალი წლების განმავლობაში, ადიშში ბევრი რამ შეიცვლება. საქართველოს პრეზიდენტი, მიხეილ სააკაშვილი ხალხს დაპირდა, რომ სვანეთის რეგიონს განავითარებდა. მთავრობამ უკვე გააკეთა გზა მესტიამდე, სამუშაო პროცესები მიმდინარეობს ქალაქის შიგნითაც, ეს სამუშაოები ვრცელდება ადიშშიც. მთავრობას აგებს ახალ გზებს, აკეთებს ელექტრო სადენებს, უახლოვეს მომავალში აღდგება ადიშის სკოლა და ბიბლიოთეკა. ადიშში სამთო- სათხილამურო კურორტი აშენდება, ამ დროისთვის სამუშაოები უკვე დაწყებულია, მეწარმეებს შეეძლებათ გახსნან ახალი სასტუმროები, რესტორნები და საჩუქრების მაღაზიები. ამ შემთხვევაში, სოფელს შეეძლება გააგრძელოს ტურისტების მიღება“ -აღნიშნავს ქით ქენი. ბოლო ორი წლის განმავლობაში თითქმის დაცლილ სოფელში ინტენსიურად ბრუნდება მოსახლეობა. სოფელი უამრავი ტურისტის ინტერესს იწვევს, ტურისტული მარშრუტების უმეტესობა სწორედ ადიშზე გადის. ფილმში დეტალურად იქნება ასახული თანამედროვე ადიში- მომავალი სამთო-სათხილამურო კურორტი თავისი უძველესი ტრადიციებით.

Press release for Mestia’s website

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Will the low volume/low-budget seasonal tourism (mostly hikers) hurt Adishi, Georgia, economically and force its residents to leave for a more prosperous lifestyle elsewhere? Or will full-scale tourism reach Adishi as it has in nearby Mestia?  If so, will the authentic experience and hospitality received by tourists today in Adishi be replaced by standard hotels/services and commercial interactions?

I hope that my documentary film will answer such questions. My name is Dr. Keith Kenney and I’m a visual communications professor at the University of South Carolina. I’m working in Tbilisi for 11 months and my job is to improve the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM). In my free time, I want to create a documentary film about Adishi.

I agree with UNESCO. The Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus deserves to be a World Heritage site because of its exceptional mountain scenery and its medieval-type villages and tower-houses. Adishi is in a gorgeous location with some of the most hospitable people on Earth.

I believe, however, that Adishi will experience strong forces for change in the next couple of years.  Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has promised to develop the Svaneti region; the government has already built a good road to Mestia and the entire town of Mestia seems under construction or re-construction. This development could extend to Adishi. The government could build new roads, replace electrical poles, perhaps even re-start Adishi’s school and add a library. If a ski resort were built nearby, which is in the planning stage, entrepreneurs then could open new hotels and restaurants, maybe even a gift shop. If such development does not reach Adishi, the farming village might continue to simply provide homestay experiences to hikers for a night. But it is doubtful that maintaining the status will be possible, in part because the current tourism model may not allow Adishi residents to earn a sustainable living.

I don’t know what will happen. But when mountain or seaside people experience hardships, they tend to sell their highly desirable land for a quick profit, and then all kinds of businesses arrive to cater to wealthy vacationers. Prices rise, and the local people either end up serving tourists or moving away.

Moreover, I am concerned because many of Adishi’s buildings and defense towers have become piles of rubble.  If such deterioration continues, then Adishi’s potential to attract tourists could also deteriorate. My film will show how Adishi residents will respond to challenges they encounter as time goes by.

Two recent graduates from the master’s program in Journalism and Media Management at the CSJMM are assisting in shooting and editing the film. Nana Mghebrishvili and Mari Papidze have already shot several hours of video and they will return to Adishi with me at the end of January, in the middle of May, and at the beginning of August to tell the story. My wife, Susanna Melo, and Ramaz Gerleiani are also invaluable team members. Susanna is the film’s photographer; in addition, she suggests shooting opportunities and helps interview Adishi residents. Ramaz, our official driver, translates from Svan to Georgian.

Defense towers need defending

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Svani means “tower architecture.” Most towers are 60 to 100 feet tall and date back to between the 9th and 12th centuries. They provided protection against aggressors—usually neighbors. Local disputes were sometimes solved by murder, and then revenged with more murders. Such inhuman methods of resolving a problem consequently caused the annihilation of dozens of people. During such feuds, families might live in towers for several years, and when enemies approached, they would hurl rocks, oil, and insults from the highest level. Towers also protected families and their livestock from avalanches and they sheltered the most valuable possessions of every family, such as religious icons.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

In Adishi, all of the towers need repair; some need major reconstruction; and still others have fallen and become a pile of rubble. Some homes and other buildings also are collapsing. It makes me sad. I see these medieval towers, in a “holy” village, beneath perpetually snow-capped mountains, and I want someone to do something to stop nature’s destruction. The Georgian government promised Adishi financial assistance three years ago, and it may be coming—nearby Mestia has certainly received government support, which caused a construction frenzy. Adishi may even become the site of a major ski resort, which will cause it to also become a boomtown. But I worry. Will too much tourism hurt the traditions of Adishi? Will too little tourism destroy it?

I hope that my documentary film will help answer such questions. Adishi could try to remain a village of farmers who provide homestay experiences to young backpackers for a night, but if it continues along this path, people may suffer so much that everyone abandons Tbilisi. Or the government could build new roads to Adishi, provide new electrical poles re-start a school, and add a library. Meanwhile entrepreneurs could open new hotels and restaurants; maybe even a giftshop. In the winter, skiers could enjoy the slopes during the day and the nightlife after dark. Is this “progress?” Will such development change the “authentic” experience, with real Svaneti hospitality, that some tourists value? Is such progress inevitable? I can’t help but think of the islanders who used to live near the coast of South Carolina and how their homeland is now a Kiawah or Hilton Head resort.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Adishi: holy city

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Adishi is a small village, 6,000 feet above sea level, in the Svaneti region of Georgia. Nine families live in this village in the Greater Caucasus Mountains throughout the year, and another six families live in the village during the summer. Other families have moved away. In 1987, avalanches destroyed several homes in the area and killed seventy people, mostly school children. In the aftermath, the Soviet Union resettled some 2,500 families, including almost all the families in Adishi, to valleys of eastern Georgia.

People in Adishi milk their cows and make cheese daily. They trade their cheese for grain, which they use to bake bread in wood-burning stoves. They also grow potatoes, the only crop suitable for its terrain. Most cash comes from backpacking tourists. People in Adishi don’t have extravagant desires; they want a better road, which will enable them to have a supply of food during winters, and a more reliable supply of electricity.

Their best hope for economic growth may be to expand tourism, especially eco-tourism. Ecotourism is responsible travel that respects the environment and improves the conditions of local communities. It’s a broad term that comprises various activities – from sports (rafting) to culture (studying the traditions of Svaneti’s towers). According to the Deputy Chairman of the Department for Tourism and Resorts, ecotourism can make living in mountain areas sustainable. He said that house renting, guide services and horse riding are revitalizing local economies.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

It helps that UNESCO designated the Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus as a World Heritage site. UNESCO bestowed this honor because the area has exceptional mountain scenery and it has preserved to a remarkable degree its medieval-type villages and tower-houses. UNESCO World Heritage Centre

When tourists saw my video team at work, they asked, “Why Adishi?” I respond that it is a small village, with defense towers dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries, beautiful scenery, and that it maintains old Svaneti traditions. Then the tourists might say that Svaneti has several such towns, which is true. So I asked some residents what makes Adishi special.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

They explained that Adishi is a holy place. It has seven churches, and in one church you can view an icon dating back to the 10th Century, but I need to check on this fact. No fact checking is required, however, when stating that the Adysh Bibles were preserved there for centuries. This important early medieval (897) book is the oldest dated extant manuscript of the Georgian version of the Gospels. It was created in a monastery in what is now northeastern Turkey and it was later brought to Adishi.