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Far-flung Georgia fest pulls off debut

Batumi event looks like it will survive eventful first year

MOSCOW — Venice may be the most luxurious film festival and Cannes the most glamorous, but the Batumi Film Festival in southwestern Georgia might well be the most remote.

Although it might have helped to have an airport within reasonable distance, the first edition of the fest, which wrapped Nov. 22, managed to come off respectably, with just a few travel snafus.

One Brazilian director arrived in Trabzon in northeast Turkey after a grueling 32-hour flight, had to negotiate visa formalities after midnight, then headed to the fest via a three-hour taxi trip into Georgia. A Berlin-based helmer was last seen returning in the opposite direction at a similarly wee hour.

Not to mention the Moscow contingent — much smaller than expected, but not surprisingly given that Russia and Georgia are almost on the verge of war, and all transport links between the two have been severed.

Held over by a month from its originally planned dates, the Batumi event looks like it will survive its eventful first year. Promised local funding proved less than expected, and results of geopolitical relations with Russia certainly proved an extra hassle, but the event proved a genuinely hospitable, with appreciative young audiences. Still, improvements in projection of some pics — and punctuality on most — would certainly help future editions.

It’s no surprise that the fest had a prominent Ukranian selection, due to the region’s close political ties with the Ukraine, as well as a strong Iranian delegation. Iran will be Georgia’s hoped-for energy source when Russia likely turns off the power this winter.A multiplicity of tongues complicated matters, with a Q&A session translated from English through Russian and Georgian into Farsi and back.

Prizes took the form of gold or silver seahorse statues, reflecting Batumi’s location as a leading Black Sea resort (though November proved well out of season).

Jury (this paper’s correspondent was unexpectedly promoted to head the body) gave the event’s Grand Prix to Slovak helmer Martin Sulik for his ensemble drama of the consequences of Czech unemployment, “City of the Sun.”

Theme of Central European alienation was up there in other major noms as well, with best feature going to Estonian-Germann co-production “Fed Up” by Peeter Simm, and best director to the distinctly bleak Hungarian entry “Dealer” by Benedek Fliegauf.

The only thing notably lacking was any local product. Georgia may have a rich film tradition from the Soviet era, but its major directors, veteran and younger, have long decamped to Paris or Berlin. Locals found a ray of hope, though, in the latest such French co-production, Temur and Gela Babluani’s “The Legacy,” which is playing to packed houses at Tbilisi’s central miniplex, and in film schools in the territory, which are about to graduate their first group of students.

Next year, organizers are contemplating bringing the event forward by a month to catch the end-of-summer tourist season. The city is due to have a spanking new air terminal by then, and maybe relations with Russia will have warmed as well.