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Tsulukiani accuses filmmakers of ‘scamming’ Film Centre

14 December 2023
Georgia’s Culture Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, in a 13 December interview on pro-government channel TV Imedi. Screengrab from the video.

Georgia’s Culture Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, has criticised a director for allegedly changing the plot of a documentary funded by the government-run Georgian Film Centre, making the film critical of the ruling party’s founder.

The documentary, titled ‘Magic Mountain’, tells the story of a tuberculosis clinic in Abastumani, southern Georgia, and its patients. In 2019, a company associated with the billionaire founder of Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, bought the territory and building of the clinic. 

At the time, BM.ge reported that all shares in the company in question, Sanapiros Khedi, were owned by ‘Limestone Finance International’, a company registered in Panama, whose owner was Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Speaking on the pro-government TV Imedi channel on Wednesday, Tsulukiani claimed that the film centre had agreed to finance the film in 2016. The contract was allegedly based on a specific script, and stipulated that changes to the script were forbidden, with the film’s name at the time given as ‘Abastumani’. Tsulukiani added that the original script did not include reference to Ivanishvili, and accused the film’s directors of ‘scamming’ the film centre. 

Tsulukiani claimed that the film presented a misleading narrative, claiming that Ivanishvili was ‘reviving’ Abastumani, in contrast to the film’s suggestion that Ivanishvili’s company had demolished the medical institution without taking into account local context and history. 

Tsulukiani’s criticism focused on co-director Mariam Chachia, who is Georgian, frequently noting her gender, while never referring to her by name.

‘This story is more painful for me [because] the film was made by a female director, who probably thought that now is the moment to change this en route and to gain a place [for herself] by criticising Bidzina Ivanishvili’, said the minister.

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Chachia responded to Tsulukiani’s accusation in a Facebook post on Thursday, according to Publika

‘It is obvious that Tea Tsulukiani has not seen the film’, wrote Chachia, ‘because it is a mistake when she says that I discuss the ‘burial’ of the tuberculosis clinic in the film.’

‘The film became a witness to the destruction of a historical building, and this was reflected in the film’, she wrote.

‘It's a mistake! When the minister says that I lied to the film center and changed the script. The film corresponds exactly to the [agreed] script,but Bidzina Ivanishvili invaded our location (we did not go to him) and destroyed the building that we had been filming for years, and this was reflected in the film’.

Local media reports that a ‘lung centre’ was built to replace the tuberculosis clinic, but at a significant distance from the pine forest where the clinic was located. 

‘This is state money… it’s not censorship’

In response to a question regarding whether there was any action that the film centre could take in response to such breaches of contract, Tsulukiani said there was a limited mechanism to do so, but did not specify what, if any, action the centre planned to take. 

‘The film centre learns from such cases and then it has to learn astuteness as well. This is state money’, said Tsulukiani. 

‘It's not censorship, it’s a contractual relationship’, added Tsulukiani. ‘We're talking about protecting contractual relationships, and we get a very pitiful result when a female director tries to sell herself using cheap methods.’

The Georgian Documentary Film Association on Thursday criticised Tsulukiani's speech, describing the minister's statement as ‘another open attack and attempt to censor independent artists’ which ‘serves the purpose of punishing them using the mechanisms accessible to the film centre’.

It additionally called Tsulukiani's claims that the contract’s terms were violated ‘absurd’, noting that a detailed script could not be provided for a documentary film prior to its shooting, and adding that changing the working title of a film was ‘an internationally accepted practice’.

Since June, Georgian filmmakers have been protesting a ‘reorganisation’ of the National Film Centre by the Ministry of Culture, warning that it aims to extend government control over the country’s cinematic output.

[Read on OC Media: ‘Georgian cinema is in danger’: filmmakers take on the culture ministry]

‘Magic Mountain’ has received a number of international film awards since its release in November, including the prize for best documentary film at Docs Barcelona, and the Silver Apricot prize at the Yerevan International Film Festival.