Keep Smiling - Georgia's bid for French film festival's Golden Rickshaw

Nine films are vying for the Golden Rickshaw award at the International Festival of Asian Cinema in Vesoul. Film maker Rusudan Chkonia is one of the jury members. Her satirical film, Keep Smiling is one of the 11 films, old and new, which make-up the festival’s 2017 focus on Georgian cinema.

A still from Rusudan Chkonia's Keep Smiling
A still from Rusudan Chkonia's Keep Smiling

Fica this year decided to highlight Georgian cinema with a selection of films made under Soviet rule and since.

Few films are made in Georgia each year – there were just 10 in 2016 including features, animation films and documentaries.

However, some Georgian directors have achieved worldwide fame. Three films from the 1960s and 70s by the best-known of them, Otar Iossellani, top the Georgian film bill at Fica.

Then there are more recent films like Tangerines, a 2013 film made by Zaza Urushadze, which made the Oscar foreign-film nominations shortlist three years ago.

International jury member Rusudan Chkonia’s ironically titled Keep Smiling of 2012 tells the stories of 10 women competing to become Best Georgian Mother, a tawdry talent and beauty contest shown on TV where the prize is an apartment and 25,000 dollars.

The contestants sing and dance the theme song on a stage in front of a live audience. Absurd situations describe a society struggling to reconcile its past and present.

Chkonia uses the contest and the contestants’ different backgrounds to talk about the difficulties faced in the capital Tblissi by people displaced by separatist wars, single mothers and unemployment or personal problems.

“Irina lives with her family in a rundown hospital room years after fleeing from war in Abkhazia,” Chkonia expalins. “Tamuna, who has taken a younger lover, wants to prove that she hasn’t lost her youth and looks, and Baya, who is beautiful and thinks she can win, wants to prove she can achieve by herself. Her politician husband interferes though.”

Odious men

While the women all have flaws, the main male characters in Keep Smiling are distinctly unlikeable - a lecherous and manipulative contest jury chairman and a corrupt politician.

Chkonia is generous, however, about all her characters.

“The jury chairman is doing what he thinks is his job,” she comments.

Chkonia says all of the characters in Keep Smiling are inspired by people she has met or knows of.

In spite of a highly competitive scene in Georgia, where few films find enough funding each year, Chkonia is determined to make a second one. Her production company is called Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory.

Ahead of the Fica awards ceremony next Tuesday 14 February 2017, Chkonia moves out of this familiar world. She’ll be judging nine features made in the past 12 months by filmmakers in China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

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