On His Anti-War Manifesto and a New Project
With his recent feature film and anti-war manifesto Tangerines,a co-production of Estonia and Georgia, Zaza Urushadze the award-winning Georgian director and the new member of the U.S.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has for the second time seen his work submitted for the Best Foreign-Language Film at the Academy Awards. Despite Tangerines representing Estonia, Georgians have been proudly supporting the film at the ceremony this year. It did not receive an Oscar award, but participation in this significant event is also a big honor and, in addition, the film was among the five nominated films at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards for the best foreign language film and has other significant awards to its credit, including the prestigious Satellite Award for the Best Foreign Film.
The quiet film with a small cast and simple but lush location tells the story of a rural Abkhazian village, where Estonian farmers settled to tend a tangerine orchard. With the start of hostilities during the 1992-1992 war in Abkhazia, most of the Estonians returned to their homeland. However, two Estonian men, Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and Margus (Elmo Nüganen), remain in the village in order to harvest their tangerines. But they get caught in the crossfire between two small bands of warring soldiers. Only two of the fighters survive: Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), a Chechen mercenary on the Abkhazian side, and Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Georgian volunteer.
Both are wounded, but the two Estonian farmers take them in and begin to nurse them back to health.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO MAKE TANGERINES AND HOW DID
YOU COME UP WITH THE STORY OF THE FILM?
I believe that there’s a serious lack of tolerance in the modern world, so my first impulse was to draw attention to this issue. Also, I lost many friends in the Abkhazian war and it impacted me enough to want to make a film about this war. Then, suddenly I learnt about the Estonian settlements in Abkhazia, empty villages with almost nobody – and I quickly realized that I’d come across a very interesting plot for the script. Regarding the shooting process itself, it took place in Guria, in my home region. We faced many difficulties while preparing a shooting area – it was a marshland and we made a road there, built a house, and planted trees. The preparation process took almost five months, but we made the film in 32 shooting days. It should be noted that the local population was very helpful and I want to express my gratitude to them.
CAN YOU TELL US WHAT SYMBOLIC SIGNIFICANCE TANGERINES
HAVE IN THE FILM?
Abkhazia is the land of tangerines; everybody in Georgia knows that the best tangerines come from there. So, the tangerine is a symbol of peace for me, and I also like its color – as a contrast to the bleakness of war…
THE FILM HAS TOURED AT VARIOUS FILM FESTIVALS, BUT MOST
NOTEWORTHY IS CERTAINLY THE OSCARS… PLEASE, SHARE YOUR
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE ACADEMY AWARDS CEREMONY.
It was like a fairy tale and an awesome experience of communicating with brilliant and interesting people who are very simple in relations. Hollywood seems so huge from a distance, but when you are there it’s nowhere near as big and remote any more. I didn’t expect that the film would have such an interesting fate and for sure it was a big challenge for me.
HOW DID YOU COME TO THE WORLD OF FILM?
I was sixteen when I clearly made up my mind that without the world of film, I’d be lost and unhappy…. At that time it was really very difficult to enter the University of Cinema and Theatre in Tbilisi and one had a chance to pass exams only once in five years, so I tried my best and, luckily, I became a student and was mentored by wonderful people and professionals – Lana Ghoghoberidze and Omar Gvasalia.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE FILMS?
It may be a little detail, one glimpse, a fleeting impulse… It’s very difficult to describe, as it doesn’t have any logical explanation.
PLEASE, DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY IN SOME WORDS.
I’m a very emotional person. People also say that I’m rather exigent while shooting a film. I don’t see myself as a strict person in general, but I can’t make any compromises while making a movie. Yet when film is done and all this creative buzz is gone we all are good friends.
ARE THERE ANY FILMS, OR FILMMAKERS, WHO HAVE INFLUENCED
Fellini, Pasolini and Bergman are my favorite authors. I like the films of Lars Von Trier and Kieslowski as well. But American comedy “Some like it hot” by Billy Wilder made the most stunning and unforgettable impression on me when I was very young.
SOME WORDS ABOUT YOUR NEXT PROJECT?
I live from film to film. Certainly, it’s quite pleasant to travel to various festivals and receive awards, but still, the most appealing thing for me is the shooting process itself. Regarding the new film, I’m very active right now working on a new project, which will be a completely Georgian production. I don’t want to give away any details yet, but I can say that the film echoes the recent 2008 war in Georgia and the main part is performed by Georgian actress Nato Murvanidze.