For the average American student of film, such as myself, Georgian film does not come up too often, if at all, so when I landed an internship at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive to work on the upcoming Georgian cinema retrospective, I knew I would have a lot to learn. My work as a researcher wove back and forth between the internet and the PFA Library and Film Study Center. Early on I kept coming across references online to a journal called Soviet Film, which itself had no online version, and there appeared to only be issues from 1974 available in the UC Berkeley library system. What to do? I turned to our trusty librarian, Jason Sanders, who guided me to a stash of issues along with other publications from the United Soviet Socialist Republics tucked away behind the library’s screening-room screen (a trip that required a flashlight and some crawling around in semi-darkness—always an adventure here!).
The two main Soviet publications in the PFA Library that I looked at were the monthly magazine Soviet Film and the illustrated catalog Sovexportfilm Presents, both published by the Soviet film distribution company Sovexportfilm.
Advertisement on the back cover of Soviet Film, December 1988
Advertisement on the back cover of Soviet Film, October 1989
There were many strange things to be seen. It turns out that not all Soviet cinema is as austere and stunning as the work of Andrei Tarkovsky; some of it could even be called trashy. Although I was scanning through materials from the U.S.S.R., my aim was to pick out articles and images that focused on Georgian cinema. Here is some of what I found.
The many faces of Otar Iosseliani from a 1988 Soviet Film article “The Georgian Phenomenon,” photos by Galina Korevykh
As far as Georgian mentions go, director Otar Iosseliani (b. 1934) comes up regularly throughout the issues of Soviet Film. He is one of the better-known Georgian filmmakers for his films The Singing Blackbird (1971), Pastorale (1974), and Alone, Georgia (1994)—and his distinctive visage.
The Georgian most often depicted in Soviet Film, however, must be the actress Leila Abashidze (b. 1929), whose breakout hit was the romantic comedy The Dragonfly (1954), which she followed up with In Our Courtyard (1956), costarring with another famous Georgian actress, Sofiko Chiaureli.
Abashidze on the front cover of Soviet Film, April 1960, photo by O. Mertsedin
Special pull-out for Soviet Film, April 1962, photo by O. Mertsedin
Abashidze on the back cover of Soviet Film, August 1967, photo by Boris Aplichuk
Next, we have another Georgian actress, Lika Kavzharadze, on the cover of Soviet Film.
Soviet Film, June 1977, photo by Valery Plotnikov
Kavzharadze plays the beautiful Marita in Tenghiz Abuladze’s award-winning film The Wishing Tree (1976). Kavzharadze costars with Kakhi Kavsadze (b. 1935), who plays the kooky village local Joram/Rebel Iorami. A few years later, Kavzharadze acted in the film Tbilisi, Paris, Tbilisi (1980) directed by the very same Leila Abashidze. Georgian cinema is a small world! More recently, the Georgian filmmaker Nana Janelidze documented the life of Kavsadze, an actor of both the stage and screen, in the documentary Will There Be a Theater Up There?! (2011).
First page of an interview with the actor from Soviet Film, August 1980
“SOVEXPORTFILM PRESENTS: the latest offering from Georgia Film” Soviet Film, June 1977
Years after The Wishing Tree, Abuladze took a very different turn from his image and allegory-rich earlier work to make the scathing Stalinist satire Repentance (1984).
Sovexportfilm Presents, 1987-1988
More Georgian films can be found in Sovexportfilm’s illustrated catalog, such as Sergei Paradjanov and Dodo Abashidze’s The Legend of Suram Fortress (1985), which received this impressive layout:
Sovexportfilm Presents, Volume 4
Paradjanov, born in Armenia, but raised in Georgia, is known for his highly stylized films and is also an accomplished artist. His work in collage most likely inspired this illustration for his next film Ashik Kerib (1988):
Sovexportfilm Presents, 1989-1990
N. Kolomytsev and V. Shibanov are listed as the art directors for Sovexportfilm Presents and the catalogs are filled with their dynamic, pre-Photoshop layouts.
During the time of the U.S.S.R. the iron curtain cut the Soviet Union off from most of the outside world, and vice versa. The Sovexportfilm publications offer a special view into that past, and I felt lucky to bring them out from behind the silver screen at the PFA Library and Film Study Center.
Keep an eye out for the Georgian cinema film series coming to BAM/PFA in the fall of 2013. All the materials that were shown here are available to look at in the PFA Library and Film Study Center, located in the main BAM/PFA building at 2621 Durant Ave. The Library is open Mon-Thur, 1-5 p.m; access is free of charge to members and UC affiliates and available to others for a $3/day use fee.
Thanks to Jason Sanders for guiding me to these Soviet publications and to those who have donated their collections to the PFA Library and Film Study Center.
Josephine Sedgwick is in her final year at Smith College in Massachusetts where she studies studio art, film, and logic. In summer 2012, she was a Praxis Intern at BAM/PFA, working with Senior Film Curator Susan Oxtoby on the upcoming Georgian Cinema retrospective.