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Zviad Eliziani • Manager, Batumi International Art-house Film Festival

"Georgia can be a perfect meeting point for film industries from the East and the West"

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- We spoke to Batumi International Art-house Film Festival manager Zviad Eliziani about the Georgian gathering’s development and its future plans

Zviad Eliziani  • Manager, Batumi International Art-house Film Festival

Cineuropa paid a visit to the Batumi International Art-house Film Festival (BIAFF) for its 13th edition (17-23 September), and found a small but well-organised festival with three international competition sections (feature, documentary and shorts) and a growing industry platform. We spoke to festival manager Zviad Eliziani about the Georgian gathering’s development, the obstacles it is facing and its future plans. 

Cineuropa: How would you describe BIAFF’s position in the festival scene?
Zviad Eliziani:
When we started BIAFF in 2006, it was a small-scale event and was really difficult to realise because we had minimal resources, plus we didn’t have much experience or contacts with the industry. But year after year, it has been developing. We were soon joined by more supporters, like filmmakers and producers who assisted us with contacts and forging relationships with other international filmmakers. 

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Now it's an established film festival with a solid structure, a concept and a position. It's still small, but we hope – providing we can get more funding and more venues – that Batumi has the potential to be one of the most interesting platforms for filmmakers and cinephiles, at least in the Black Sea region. The city itself is developing, and it’s a tourist-friendly place, so the festival is very well suited to it.

Tell us a bit about the industry section, Alternative Wave, and how you intend to develop it. 
In Georgia and other former Soviet countries, there are talented filmmakers and skilled crews, but there is a lack of experience in marketing and management, and a lack of business skills. So from 2011, we started inviting industry people like Marion Doring from the EFA, or representatives of the Hubert Bals Fund, and organised presentations of co-production opportunities, funds and film centres. Then we invited our two producers, Lasha Khalvashi and Tinatin Kajrishvili, to do it, and we started with Alternative Wave (see the news). It is a small platform that is not comparable to similar ones in the region, like Sofia Meetings or Istanbul's Meetings on the Bridge, but we are aiming to partner with them and other such events in Europe. We want to expand it and add a market component, giving the local industry a chance to interact and network with potential partners from abroad, such as financiers or sales agents. 

Georgia has an advantage in that it is a very neutral and open country. Around us there are many conflicts, like between Armenia and Azerbaijan, for example. They cannot meet in their countries, but they can in Georgia. Even Iranians don't need visas for Georgia, so this can be a meeting point for filmmakers from these countries to come and work with Georgian and the Western industries. 

What are the biggest obstacles that BIAFF is currently facing?
One immediate obstacle is the lack of screening capacity. We only have one cinema with 160 seats. Now, the Batumi Puppet Theatre, which also has around 160 seats, is getting a good projector and a screen, so hopefully we will be able to use it.

We have another big obstacle in the form of Russian distributors. We book about half of our films from European sales agents, but the biggest movies, like this year’s Climax [+see also:
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The House That Jack Built [+see also:
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interview: Lars von Trier
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 or Everybody Knows [+see also:
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, are immediately bought by Russian distributors, which get the rights for all of the former USSR. They can demand any price they want for festival screenings, and sometimes we can negotiate to lower it. But the problem is that they release these films between October and December, and for them, Georgia is a small market, so it's hard to get the movies this early. Often, they don't have a print ready yet, so every year what happens is that we get it at the last minute, or sometimes not at all, even when we’ve paid in advance, and this creates a lot of stress for us.

Are your screenings free?
We realised that the act of selling tickets would not make a big difference for us, financially, and we want our programme to be accessible to as many people as possible. It is important to develop the filmgoing culture in the city. The regular cinema ticket price in Georgia is under €3. Maybe in future we will introduce a symbolic price, like €1, just to make it easier to handle the seats.

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