Georgia, a rugged and beautiful nation nestled between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, has made a concerted effort in recent years to attract international filmmakers to shoot in the country. Those that have already made the journey report that Georgia is now on their minds when planning future productions.
One filmmaker who has long experience in Georgia is cinematographer and director Phedon Papamichael, who was Oscar-nominated for Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” and whose recent credits include Payne’s “Downsizing.” He first went to Georgia 19 years ago to shoot Nana Dzhordzhadze’s “27 Missing Kisses,” and recently shot for 15 days in the country for Levan Koguashvili’s “Brighton 4” (pictured above), which is now moving to Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach to complete the story about a Georgian Olympic wrestler visiting his son in New York.
When Papamichael first went there in 1999 it was like “the Wild West,” he recalls, with crumbling infrastructure and antiquated equipment, but “the people were incredibly charming.” The DP now has a home in Georgia and is married to a Georgian. “We’ve moved forward by leaps and bounds,” he says.
Substantial investments have been made in the country’s infrastructure — including improving the roads and building world-class hotels — and the movie sector has been enhanced with modern facilities companies, international-standard production service outfits and crews, who mostly speak English.
Papamichael estimates that crew costs are probably around a third of what they are in established Hollywood destinations such as London or Prague. “I would be comfortable using an entirely local crew,” he says.
He intends to put that into practice on his next film in Georgia, a comic road movie called “Good Company,” which he plans to direct in the fall. “There’s a lot of potential here. It’s a very exciting time for them.”
Mike Downey, who has co-produced three films in Georgia and is about to start a fourth, Rudolph Herzog’s “How to Sell a War,” says: “There is a very can-do approach to all aspects of production and a willingness to get to grips with the real problems of production on the ground.”
The country introduced a cash rebate in 2016 that’s worth 20% of local spend without a so-called cultural test, conditions that are often applied by countries to ensure the inclusion of local talent or storyline.
Producers can access a further 5% rebate in Georgia, but with a cultural test applied.
As well as feature films, the rebate can be used for other productions, such as drama series, animation and reality shows. Government assistance is also offered with location scouting, acquiring permits and coordinating with various state bodies.
Turkish director Tolga Ornek is prepping a TV show to be shot in Georgia, thriller “The Syndicate,” about a heroin crime syndicate stretching from Afghanistan to Europe. Georgia will double for Afghanistan, many parts of Turkey and Europe, and will probably be the main unit base.
“You can hire fantastic local crews,” Ornek says. “Our production is a multiple-country international TV show, so to keep the look and operation consistent we’d bring in our own major department heads, but hire almost everyone else locally, including local actors for supporting parts.”
Ornek has no concerns about safety. “Georgia is extremely safe, incredibly friendly, and corruption-free,” he notes. “All the critical government offices dealing with film production are staffed by highly educated people with international sensibilities who are honest, candid and cooperative.”
Among the foreign films to shoot in Georgia recently was French filmmaker Eva Husson’s “Girls of the Sun,” which stars Golshifteh Farahani and Emmanuelle Bercot. It centers on a battalion of Kurdish female fighters. The Georgian co-producer is 20 Steps Prods.
As well as serving international productions, Georgia is building a reputation for creatively led homegrown movies. Nikolaj Nikitin, who leads the Berlinale’s selection of films from Eastern Europe, describes the country as a “hotspot.”
Many of its films are European co-productions, assisted by its membership of funding body Eurimages. Among last year’s successes: Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’ “My Happy Family,” which premiered at Sundance, and was one of five Georgian films at last year’s Berlinale, where it was acquired by Netflix.
In Berlin’s Panorama section this year is another Georgian film, Tinatin Kajrishvili’s “Horizon,” a co-production with Sweden.
Georgian cinema is building on a filmmaking tradition reaching back through the Soviet era, such as Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1958 Palme d’Or winner “The Cranes Are Flying,” which was recently restored and will screen this year in Berlin.