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Reflections on the Black Sea: A film festival from a rich and perilous region 

This year the London Georgian Film Festival focuses on films made by marginalised east European voices

Two women press faces together

A Room of My Own stars co-writer Taki Mumladze (left) and Mariam Khundadze

The Black Sea, with its rich history and contemporary geopolitical significance, is at the heart of the seventh edition of the London Georgian Film Festival. It takes place against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the fallout of which has made the Black Sea the focus of global attention. Vital for the world’s food supplies, for European security, and for economic links stretching all the way to China, the Black Sea finds itself at the fulcrum of global events. But this isn’t the first time it has been at the centre of history. 

Over the centuries, its waters have witnessed myriad cultural exchanges, alliances and conflicts, defining the fates of empires and shaping the destinies of the nations on its shores.  

Through its selection of films from these countries, Reflections on the Black Sea explores the lives and historical context of the peoples of the region. 

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The programme favours emerging filmmakers, and almost half of the films are directed by women. Snow And The Bear is the debut of Turkish filmmaker Selcen Ergun, who made it against the odds in the male-dominated Turkish film industry (just 6% of Turkish films are directed by women). The film follows a young nurse called Asli, who arrives at a remote Turkish town cut off from the world by an endlessly harsh winter amid rumours of bears awakening early from their winter sleep, and mirrors the constant pressure of feeling unsafe as a young woman in Turkey. 

The closing film is the international festival hit A Room Of My Own. This is a story of modern womanhood and female intimacy directed by award-winning filmmaker Ioseb ‘Soso’ Bliadze and co-written by actor Taki Mumladze, who stars as Tina, who has left an abusive marriage and moves in with hard-partying Megi (Mariam Khundadze). As Tina struggles to find her independence, she and Megi form an intimate bond which neither woman anticipated. Its release was risky; films with LGBT+ themes have been met with protests in Georgia. In 2020, Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced, which features a gay love story, was picketed by far-right activists and denounced by the Georgian Orthodox Church.  

Sundance breakout documentary hit Taming the Garden also ran into controversy when it was released in Georgia, and its official screenings were cancelled by the Georgian Film Academy. Directed by Salomé Jashi, the film is a haunting, hypnotic work that details the rivalry between men and nature, recounting how an influential man transplants century-old trees from communities along the Georgian coast to his private garden which is transformed into a public park.   

The taut Romanian drama Miracle, directed by Bogdan George Apetri, tells the tragic journey of Cristina Tofan, a 19-year-old nun, caught between the man’s world she has grown up in and the repressive, old-fashioned, isolated convent were she seeks sanctuary. The film alludes to historic realities of the Black Sea region, commentating on Romanian society and attitudes to women.  

The festival will also screen two restored classic silent films with live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney, highlighting historical parallels across generations. The Self-Seeker is a brilliant satire that follows an easy-going Kyiv opportunist caught between the Red Army, the White forces and local bandits as he tries to avoid the 1917-1921 civil war with the aid of a miraculous camel. A UK premiere; the film was banned by the Soviet authorities and thought lost until being rediscovered and restored in 2012. Vladimir Barskiy’s 1927 film, Bela, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Georgian mountains, offers a deep dive into history, highlighting love and cunning in the Caucasus. 

Perhaps most evocatively, the festival showcases a riveting gem: Nariman Aliev’s Homeward, which debuted at Cannes. The story unfolds around Nazim, a Crimean Tartar who tragically falls victim to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Mustafa, a grief-stricken father, embarks on an odyssey to return his son’s body to his ancestral home. This perilous voyage, spanning from Kyiv to the tumultuous terrains of the Crimean Peninsula, delves into the depths of parental love and loss and shines a light on the broader conflicts of the region.  

The programme serves as a poignant reminder of the vibrant, undying human stories of the Black Sea. As we immerse ourselves in these cinematic narratives, we’re compelled to recognise and honour the resilience, diversity, and legacy of a region that persistently eludes simple definition, even as it dominates
the news. 

Jason Osborn is programmer of the London Georgian Film Festival: Reflections on the Black Sea, which will be held at the Ciné Lumière from 28 Sept–3 Oct

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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