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  • Nino Orjonikidze: documentary will not directly change society, but it will make people think

“My ambition is to explore the world with filmmaking tools and tell the stories that otherwise cannot be heard” – Nino Orjonikidze, Georgian documentary filmmaker and a trainer.

Her film “English teacher” will be screened during Ukrainian documentary film festival Docudays UA – it is about a small Georgian village. It questions if the Revolution of Roses has changed Georgia.

Apart from working on documentary movies in her own production company Artefact Production, Nino teaches documentary and TV journalism in Georgian Institute of Public Affairs and she is also a mentor in Chai Khana – a South Caucasus multimedia project supported by MYMEDIA, where she helps young journalists create documentary films.

Shortly before the première of the film in Kyiv, Nino told MYMEDIA about Georgian filmmaking  and documentary industry, their tendencies in post-Soviet region and also  why documentary is better than journalism, what the good teacher is like and what it takes to teach the young generation filmmaking.

Documentary: industry

If you want to be really popular and reach a large audience, documentary is a wrong business for you. Reality shows and TV news is much more popular. But if you want to experiment in filmmaking and explore the world in a very artistic way then it is your business.

I consider filmmaking as a storytelling that can influence people and have a social value. But at the same time I don’t think filmmakers should have an ambition change people’s minds. I don’t think we know better what to change.

I believe that filmmaking is about creating the empathy with characters of yourself and the viewers, and understand the subject more in-depth. It helps you behind the news and political agenda and see, what really matters.

There are many documentaries about national conflicts, but I don’t think documentary is the sphere that can change or very much influence them. Directors are not statesmen or politicians – they work with people’s minds. I don’t think documentaries can be a source of a big political change, but it’s a great tool for making people think. I believe that everything starts from realizing, thinking. Then there might be a change, but there might be not.

My ambition is to explore the world with a filmmaking tools and to tell a story that otherwise can’t be heard. I believe that filmmaking is about creating an empathy with characters inside yourself and then in viewers. It helps you behind the news and political agenda and see, what really matters.

My main source of inspiration is reality. We travel a lot and we try to go off road as much as possible, to find what is not on the surface.. We go to small villages in Georgia and talk to people – communication is very important. So even such trivial things as markets or stations can be big sources of inspiration for me. Media itself is less my inspiration. 

Post-Soviet countries are full of inspiration. It is a kind of Wild West for documentalists, with yet not so many filmmakers and well-told stories

At most international forums filmmakers from ex-Soviet country will most probably tell stories about  “transitional period”, never-ending conflict and social needs. But international market is a bit fed up with this kind of topics and they are looking for fresh angles and fresh approach to the reality. And there are certainly topics that need more coverage.

For instance such themes as education, retired people’s needs and environmental topics are very much under-represented. We have so many problems in our countries that it seems that environmental issues are not so important, which I think is totally wrong. We are dying because of that and it’s a chain that affects people very much but we don’t have time and luxury to think about this.

NGO-funded topics often become really popular. Now it’s very fashionable to cover gender topics, which I have nothing against, but it’s much harder to find an unconventional angle to it. This is why I think topics should not be dictated by NGO-funded schemes, but filmmakers themselves have to trigger some interesting stories.

Apart from financial issues, documentary industry faces other challenges, such as a lack of state support for filmmakers and insufficient education, a lack particular skills in many specific professions. For instance, one can find two, maximum three really professional sound guys.

Another thing is that Organizational culture is very low in Georgia. Here we are more like independent multi-skilled mid-level specialists who are trying to do everything themselves. Starting from driver, project-manager and accountant – everything you do yourself. Which helps you a lot to understand things, but it’s not what the huge project is about, and this is something that we could learn from the West.

Documentary: education

Until now the institution of filmmaking never had enough resources and students were graduating without holding a camera in their hands. And the same is in the faculty of journalism – TV journalists were studying and coming to the next level only theorizing what can be filmed. In this sphere you should work more hands-on and really do things in practice. Theory is no longer a problem with access to internet, online databases and professional literature.

The young generation really needs to be engaged. In our times education was more lecturer-centered: “This is what I know, now listen to me and whatever I’ll say that’s great”.

This is a wrong methodology. The whole process should be learner-based. A teacher should make sure that learning takes place, not the teaching. 

But the most important is still listening to your students’ and your peers’ feedback.  I don’t think at any point you are at the stage you don’t need any improvement – even if you’re professor I think you have to listen to the time needs and students’ needs.

Documentary is a business which is changing incredibly. Storytelling tools are changing so rapidly and you have to adapt. In academy you have to be in advance, rather than just running afterwards.

However usually, and not only in Georgia or post-Soviet region, but in the whole world - academies are monolithic and not open to changing, while I think they should be a land of experiment and give us stimuli for changes in the industry, not create rigid rules that you have to adapt to.

Documentary: profession

Teaching and learning are not so much about how to use the camera – at some point you will be in the industry and if you can’t use a camera you will learn to.

The key thing is to get an inspiration – if you are inspired and motivated you can get a lot. This is what I got from my teachers at cinema studies – one of them made me understand the cinema language and its magic, and the other one showed me how to become a good teacher.

I was 15 when I started learning cinema, but still I used to work as a television journalist for 10 years – as a newscaster and reporter in Georgian local televisions, though never losing my interest in cinema.

After Rose revolution television became not very popular any more in Georgia, because it was very much controlled, and that’s why we moved to independent documentary production

And this is when I found that filmmaking and documentary are much better for covering reality than just news, in terms of storytelling, experimenting and impact. TV, news, and even current affairs are something that stays for a couple of days or weeks. But documentary, if it’s really good and you managed to distribute it, has much more value. In documentary you are much freer as an author, and it’s much more interesting in terms of how you work with reality.

I can’t choose what my best films are – there are not so many, just 5 so far. But last film English Teacher is very important for me because we’ve found an interesting way to tell a very important story of nowadays. We talk about political situation, process and the change that takes place in Georgia without talking to politicians, but showing it through the village story and still represent these changes in an indirect way.

There is another film that was filmed before that in Pankisi Gorge, which is about the woman leader of a generally very masculine community that is regarded very authoritative there. This film is also interesting in terms of its visual solution, and this is why the film was quite successful throughout the world.

Talking about my teaching role - I see myself rather as a facilitator, than a mentor. I believe my students might have better ideas – we just exchange our views, and I help them to make this product more reliable, engaging and interesting. I don’t define what their stories are – they find them themselves, and they know better, what their own messages and goals are. My task is to refine the story a little and make them better storytellers. I give them tools and make them understand visual grammar.

I learn a lot from my students. Every time they bring their stories I discover through them a new world. Sometimes they do fantastic stories – they have a very good vision. And I’m trying to inspire them to form their perception, not share mine.

When you’re filmmaking, your characters are following you all the time and become your family. Sometimes in the course of documentary I have 12 students who are simultaneously working on 12 stories. Then I feel so exhausted because I’m living with the lives of their characters not only in Georgia – but also Armenia and Azerbaijan, though I have never been in there myself. But due to my stuedents’ characters I learnt a lot about these countries. 

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“My ambition is to explore the world with filmmaking tools and tell the stories that otherwise cannot be heard” – Nino Orjonikidze, Georgian documentary filmmaker and a trainer.

Her film “English teacher” will be screened during Ukrainian documentary film festival Docudays UA – it is about a small Georgian village. It questions if the Revolution of Roses has changed Georgia.

Apart from working on documentary movies in her own production company Artefact Production, Nino teaches documentary and TV journalism in Georgian Institute of Public Affairs and she is also a mentor in Chai Khana – a South Caucasus multimedia project supported by MYMEDIA, where she helps young journalists create documentary films.

Shortly before the première of the film in Kyiv, Nino told MYMEDIA about Georgian filmmaking  and documentary industry, their tendencies in post-Soviet region and also  why documentary is better than journalism, what the good teacher is like and what it takes to teach the young generation filmmaking.

Documentary: industry

If you want to be really popular and reach a large audience, documentary is a wrong business for you. Reality shows and TV news is much more popular. But if you want to experiment in filmmaking and explore the world in a very artistic way then it is your business.

I consider filmmaking as a storytelling that can influence people and have a social value. But at the same time I don’t think filmmakers should have an ambition change people’s minds. I don’t think we know better what to change.

I believe that filmmaking is about creating the empathy with characters of yourself and the viewers, and understand the subject more in-depth. It helps you behind the news and political agenda and see, what really matters.

There are many documentaries about national conflicts, but I don’t think documentary is the sphere that can change or very much influence them. Directors are not statesmen or politicians – they work with people’s minds. I don’t think documentaries can be a source of a big political change, but it’s a great tool for making people think. I believe that everything starts from realizing, thinking. Then there might be a change, but there might be not.

My ambition is to explore the world with a filmmaking tools and to tell a story that otherwise can’t be heard. I believe that filmmaking is about creating an empathy with characters inside yourself and then in viewers. It helps you behind the news and political agenda and see, what really matters.

My main source of inspiration is reality. We travel a lot and we try to go off road as much as possible, to find what is not on the surface.. We go to small villages in Georgia and talk to people – communication is very important. So even such trivial things as markets or stations can be big sources of inspiration for me. Media itself is less my inspiration. 

Post-Soviet countries are full of inspiration. It is a kind of Wild West for documentalists, with yet not so many filmmakers and well-told stories

At most international forums filmmakers from ex-Soviet country will most probably tell stories about  “transitional period”, never-ending conflict and social needs. But international market is a bit fed up with this kind of topics and they are looking for fresh angles and fresh approach to the reality. And there are certainly topics that need more coverage.

For instance such themes as education, retired people’s needs and environmental topics are very much under-represented. We have so many problems in our countries that it seems that environmental issues are not so important, which I think is totally wrong. We are dying because of that and it’s a chain that affects people very much but we don’t have time and luxury to think about this.

NGO-funded topics often become really popular. Now it’s very fashionable to cover gender topics, which I have nothing against, but it’s much harder to find an unconventional angle to it. This is why I think topics should not be dictated by NGO-funded schemes, but filmmakers themselves have to trigger some interesting stories.

Apart from financial issues, documentary industry faces other challenges, such as a lack of state support for filmmakers and insufficient education, a lack particular skills in many specific professions. For instance, one can find two, maximum three really professional sound guys.

Another thing is that Organizational culture is very low in Georgia. Here we are more like independent multi-skilled mid-level specialists who are trying to do everything themselves. Starting from driver, project-manager and accountant – everything you do yourself. Which helps you a lot to understand things, but it’s not what the huge project is about, and this is something that we could learn from the West.

Documentary: education

Until now the institution of filmmaking never had enough resources and students were graduating without holding a camera in their hands. And the same is in the faculty of journalism – TV journalists were studying and coming to the next level only theorizing what can be filmed. In this sphere you should work more hands-on and really do things in practice. Theory is no longer a problem with access to internet, online databases and professional literature.

The young generation really needs to be engaged. In our times education was more lecturer-centered: “This is what I know, now listen to me and whatever I’ll say that’s great”.

This is a wrong methodology. The whole process should be learner-based. A teacher should make sure that learning takes place, not the teaching. 

But the most important is still listening to your students’ and your peers’ feedback.  I don’t think at any point you are at the stage you don’t need any improvement – even if you’re professor I think you have to listen to the time needs and students’ needs.

Documentary is a business which is changing incredibly. Storytelling tools are changing so rapidly and you have to adapt. In academy you have to be in advance, rather than just running afterwards.

However usually, and not only in Georgia or post-Soviet region, but in the whole world - academies are monolithic and not open to changing, while I think they should be a land of experiment and give us stimuli for changes in the industry, not create rigid rules that you have to adapt to.

Documentary: profession

Teaching and learning are not so much about how to use the camera – at some point you will be in the industry and if you can’t use a camera you will learn to.

The key thing is to get an inspiration – if you are inspired and motivated you can get a lot. This is what I got from my teachers at cinema studies – one of them made me understand the cinema language and its magic, and the other one showed me how to become a good teacher.

I was 15 when I started learning cinema, but still I used to work as a television journalist for 10 years – as a newscaster and reporter in Georgian local televisions, though never losing my interest in cinema.

After Rose revolution television became not very popular any more in Georgia, because it was very much controlled, and that’s why we moved to independent documentary production

And this is when I found that filmmaking and documentary are much better for covering reality than just news, in terms of storytelling, experimenting and impact. TV, news, and even current affairs are something that stays for a couple of days or weeks. But documentary, if it’s really good and you managed to distribute it, has much more value. In documentary you are much freer as an author, and it’s much more interesting in terms of how you work with reality.

I can’t choose what my best films are – there are not so many, just 5 so far. But last film English Teacher is very important for me because we’ve found an interesting way to tell a very important story of nowadays. We talk about political situation, process and the change that takes place in Georgia without talking to politicians, but showing it through the village story and still represent these changes in an indirect way.

There is another film that was filmed before that in Pankisi Gorge, which is about the woman leader of a generally very masculine community that is regarded very authoritative there. This film is also interesting in terms of its visual solution, and this is why the film was quite successful throughout the world.

Talking about my teaching role - I see myself rather as a facilitator, than a mentor. I believe my students might have better ideas – we just exchange our views, and I help them to make this product more reliable, engaging and interesting. I don’t define what their stories are – they find them themselves, and they know better, what their own messages and goals are. My task is to refine the story a little and make them better storytellers. I give them tools and make them understand visual grammar.

I learn a lot from my students. Every time they bring their stories I discover through them a new world. Sometimes they do fantastic stories – they have a very good vision. And I’m trying to inspire them to form their perception, not share mine.

When you’re filmmaking, your characters are following you all the time and become your family. Sometimes in the course of documentary I have 12 students who are simultaneously working on 12 stories. Then I feel so exhausted because I’m living with the lives of their characters not only in Georgia – but also Armenia and Azerbaijan, though I have never been in there myself. But due to my stuedents’ characters I learnt a lot about these countries. 

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