A Feminist Manifesto for Creative Women

This keynote speech on Female Directors in Georgian Cinema: Past and Present was delivered at the Eurimages Gender Equality Outreach Meeting held on the occasion of the 153rd Eurimages Management Board Meeting in Tbilisi on 11 December 2018. The text has been slightly modified for publication online.

Very often, national histories are constructed through mythology and Georgia is no exception in this regard. Rather opposite, often we are exaggerating the country’s glorious past. However, there is one myth which I am tempted to mention – a myth which allows Georgia the chance to place itself within a global context. It is a myth which makes this small country easily recognizable and special. I think all of us Georgian women in some way resemble one of the main characters of this story – Medea. But, I believe, that most of all this powerful yet ambivalent woman associated with magic, healing, and transformation is linked to filmmakers, as much as cinema is tied to magic and catharsis.

If we stick with the past for a moment, there are two things that we Georgians tend to feel pride in –  the birth of Georgian literature in the 5th century, and the birth of Georgian cinema at the beginning of the 20th century. Both begin by depicting the lives of female protagonists. It’s very interesting (and I’m sure that much research could be written about this) to think about how this influences both forms of expression, and how the life and fate of women characters, as well as the depiction of their role in society, changes over time and across different art forms.

The first work of Georgian literature is believed to be a 5th-century text which describes the life and martyrdom of Saint Shushanik – an Armenian noblewoman who was killed by her spouse after he renounced the Christian faith.

The first Georgian feature film, Qristine, tells the story of a village girl who is raped by a local aristocrat and then attempts to commit suicide but is rescued by other villagers. After her attempted suicide, the eponymous heroine befriends Sona, hoping to start her life anew, but rather than helping her as promised, Sona delivers Qristine to a brother. As with the story of Shushannik, there is a tragic end in store for the main character of this narrative as well.

The thing that unites these two important and groundbreaking works of art across the centuries is the presence of an author – one who is not anonymous because he is male. Of course, this fact doesn’t diminish the importance and value of these works, but it’s worth thinking about how the story of the two female characters that are told in these cultural landmarks would have played out had the author too been a female.

The regrettably short professional biography of Nutsa Gogoberidze, the first Georgian female film director, tells us so much about the fate of women artists in Georgia. Soon after the appearance of the first feature film, at the age of 25 Nutsa Gogoberidze made her first documentary – Their Kingdom - in 1927, together with Mikhail Kalatozov (Mikheil Kalatozishvili). This was followed by her second film, Buba, which was made in 1930 and, after encountering numerous obstacles, her third film –Uzhmuri (‘Ill-Tempered’) - appeared on screens in 1934. This latter film was the first Soviet feature film to be directed by a woman.

In 1937, at the height of the Stalin-era purges, Nutsa was detained for being a member of a family considered “enemies of the people” and she was sentenced to 10 years in exile and her films were banned by the Soviet regime. Even after Nutsa’s return from exile, any possible way back into the film industry was blocked to her, and it was only after her death that her creative works were rediscovered. Nutsa’s daughter, Lana Gogoberidze, was one of the most prominent Soviet Georgian female filmmakers of the 1960s, and her granddaughter, Salome Alexi, is also a director.

Nutsa Gogoberidze is important not only for being the parent of two generations of female filmmakers in her own family but as the first female director in Georgia, she can also be called the “founder mother” of all generations of female filmmakers in our country.

Intimacy, sensitivity and a brave autobiographical touch have always been the hallmarks of films by Georgian female directors. Their films are distinct, individual, and in the background, one always senses the unseen struggle of being a female artist in a society dominated by men. This aspect of female struggle intensified under the harsh regime of the Soviet Union, and then later even more so in the context of rising nationalism, civil and ethnic conflict and then, the need to deal with the legacy of this historical turmoil as a woman.

While the image of women in mass-produced Georgian films mostly projected the characteristics of dependence, purity, and innocence, some female artists portrayed the qualities of liberated women through characters that, in some ways, were their alter egos. The presence of these female artists in the cultural sphere also strengthened the idea of women managing to do everything: to have children and raise them, keep down a job, find the means to survive in harsh conditions of total economic and political collapse whilst also finding the desire and the power to be creative. It sounds impossible, and yet it was being done. Their films – with their memorably beautiful imagery and the intelligence of their protagonists – would remain extremely inspirational for future generations of female warriors, encouraging them to be creative and to change the world around them. 

This was certainly the case for me. I always wanted to make films, but members of my family, who were generally quite supportive of my ambitions, were totally opposed to me being part of the industry. They were convinced that being a young woman, I wouldn’t be able to survive in a film industry that was run by men. I remember mentioning such names to them as Lana Gogoberidze, Nana Jorjadze, and Nana Mchedlidze, and while these women’s examples failed to convince my family, they were certainly an inspiration to me as I went about pursuing my dreams.

Recently the Guardian newspaper published an article about women in Georgian cinema in celebration of the centenary of Georgian film. The article was published in the wake of criticism of the Cannes International Film Festival on the grounds that it failed to preserve a balance between male and female directors in the festival’s competition section. The article was entitled “Putting Cannes to Shame: The Female-Led Georgian Film Festival”. In the opening of the article, we read that “the Georgian Film Festival arrives in London this week with … a sizable chunk … of female directors – half of the films showing are directed by women …challenging gender roles in the country’s rigidly patriarchal society.”[1] The article also poses the question of whether there is a resurgent feminist movement in Georgia. I completely relate to the answer given by Georgian film director Nana Ekvtimishvili, who gives the following answer when asked if there is a rising feminist movement in Georgia to correspond to the recent crop of female directors:

“No,” she answers bluntly. “It’s a pity, but that’s my impression. There are women’s rights organizations and individual activists. Great women, great voices. But there is no strong feminist movement. Still, in this society, people think of feminism as against our Georgian tradition, as something dangerous.[2]

I completely agree with Nana and often wonder why it is that Georgian women who are extremely feminist in their self-expression are often so afraid of being labeled as feminist. The article continues:

Neither woman I talk to has an explanation for the growing success of female directors in Georgia right now. Both wearily reel off the same kind of sexist crap that female filmmakers elsewhere have experienced. “I don’t know why we are so many,” says [Elene] Naveriani. “But I think it’s really important that women are telling their stories. We need a female gaze, you know.”[3]

If I may pose the same question to all of my colleagues, fellow female artists, and filmmakers:

Would you describe your artistic and creative output as feminist?

Are you a feminist?

And if not, why? 

Considering the patriarchal structure of Georgian society, the rise of global feminist movements and the challenges to gender equality that we are still dealing with, it’s quite clear that we need not only more women in the creative industries, but also more women in decision-making roles within the cultural sector and film industry. We are still lacking female voices and female figures in the competition commissions of the Georgian National Film Center and other structures within the industry. We are also lacking female voices in panel discussion and public talks.

To bring this brief introduction to a close, I feel that the woman artist of today must be a feminist artist – one who listens to marginalized groups gives them a voice and expresses their needs in a creative form, through cinema or other types of artistic expression. She is the one who hears and one who delivers; she is also one who changes reality around her.

I have the feeling that female artists are developing a voice inexistent for centuries. The time in which we were anonymous is now over – it is time to speak out. There is no future without us, and much more than that: The future is us! The future is female!