• Festivals

In Georgia, a Festival Celebrates Arthouse Films

As Chairman of the Foreign Language Film Committee of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, I had the honor to be invited to be the Chairman of the Jury of the 13th Edition of the Batumi International Art House Film Festival (BIAFF) in Batumi, Georgia.

A Black Sea resort and port city close to the border of Turkey is the capital of the Georgian Autonomous Republic of Adjara, Batumi is currently experiencing a tourist boom, nicknamed “Little Dubai” thanks to its tall high-rises popping everywhere, with plenty of restaurants with a great inexpensive food and friendly service. The old town district is lined with renovated 19th-century buildings.

The Festival itself was pleasantly surprising. The international competition of feature films was comprised of 10 pictures, all produced in 2018, including the Ukrainian Golden Globe and Oscar submission Donbas, by renowned director Sergei Loznitsa, and the Italian submission to the Golden Globes, Happy as Lazzaro, by Italian director Alice Rohrwacher, winner of the best director award  at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The Batumi Jury also gave Ms. Rohrwacher the best director prize, while Adriano Tardiolo, who played the main character in the film, was awarded the best actor prize. The picture is an interesting post-modern take on the St.Lazarus story.

The UK’s Ray & Liz, an original interpretation (both visually and narratively) of life of in the British housing projects, won the award for best picture.

Besides the main competition, the Festival featured international documentary and short films, mainly from 2018.

The festival selection – screened free to the public – included South Korea’s Burning, from director Lee Chang-dong,  Golden Globe nominee Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War (both submitted to this year’s Golden Globe) and Golden Globe winner Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows.

Special screenings included Summer, by innovative Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who could not attend because he is under house arrest in Moscow under the false pretense of embezzlement.

The festival featured a Georgian Panorama featuring the new crop of local cinema currently experiencing a renaissance, and a series of panels and master classes, including a presentation about the Golden Globes in general and the specifics of the Foreign Language Films competition.

The Festival was very well organized by general manager Zviad Eliziani and his team of professionals and volunteers, who did their jobs with enthusiasm and sincere care for the public and the guests of the Festival. One could feel there the energy of the country which is recovering from the Soviet past thanks to the optimism of its people.

 “When we started BIAFF in 2006, it was a small-scale event and was really difficult to realize because we had minimal resources, plus we didn’t have much experience or contacts with the industry,” Eliziani said. “But year after year, it has been developing. We were soon joined by more supporters, like filmmakers and producers who assisted us with contacts and forging relationships with other international filmmakers. Now it’s an established film festival with a solid structure, a concept, and a position. It’s still small, but we hope – providing we can get more funding and more venues – that Batumi has the potential to be one of the most interesting platforms for filmmakers and cinephiles. The city itself is developing, and it’s a tourist-friendly place, so the festival is very well suited to it”.

After attending the 13th BIAFF, I wholeheartedly agree.