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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2020 Competition

Dea Kulumbegashvili • Director of Beginning

“In Georgia, as a woman, you're trained to accept that you don't really matter”

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- We spoke to Dea Kulumbegashvili about her debut film, Beginning, which swept the board at San Sebastián, winning the Golden Shell, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress

Dea Kulumbegashvili  • Director of Beginning
(© Alex Abril/Festival de San Sebastián)

Cineuropa caught up with Dea Kulumbegashvili at the San Sebastián Film Festival to talk about her Golden Shell-winning feature debut, Beginning [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Dea Kulumbegashvili
film profile
]
, her decision to look at Jehovah’s Witnesses, the role of religion and womanhood in Georgia.

Cineuropa: Why did you choose to put the Jehovah’s Witnesses community at the heart of Beginning?
Dea Kulumbegashvili:
Five years ago, I was visiting my father in the village where he used to live, and he was talking to me about these people who are related to our family, and who are from this village. He said, “They usually go to the gatherings in the Kingdom Hall and their car's broken, and nobody wants to give them a lift, even though they walk kilometres to get to their place of worship. Now every week, I just drive them.” I asked my father: “Do you just want to help out?” Because, I would say, he was not very complimentary of the choice that these relatives made to convert to Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a human, he felt guilty for these people being so ostracised from the community where they grew up, and from the place which is their home. Then my father passed away, and these folks came to the funeral and started talking to me.

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How did that conversation affect you?
I started to see that it's a very complex group of people. And it's a very complex problem that we're looking at: on one hand, they're really ostracised from the community and from the place where they grew up, but on the other hand, the structure of this particular religious group is also very particular. So, I started to become interested in how they live. I was very interested in the subject of alienation and how, because of the personal choices you make, all of a sudden you can start to feel like you're a stranger, even among the people you grew up with. And I am interested in the subject of religion, in general.

The protagonist, Yana, played by award winner Ia Sukhitashvili, is a former actress who gives up her career for her husband’s religion. In the film, she finds agency. What is the aspect of womanhood you wanted to explore?
When you grow up in Georgia, as a woman, you're trained to be selfless, in a way. So, starting in your childhood, everything you do, it's not for you, it's for your future: what kind of mother you're going to be, what kind of wife you're going to be... You're trained to accept that you don't really matter. And I'm very interested in the subject of what it means to be a woman. I think that with all of the current concerns about women's emancipation, this subject and this problem go far beyond human rights or just talking about equality. And it's not only particularly in Georgia; I would say that there are many other countries where these issues are much more relevant and problematic.

Georgia went from being a communist, atheistic state to religion returning very quickly to its society. How did you witness this?
When I was growing up, there was the first wave of extreme Christianity that hit Georgia. My understanding is that people need to believe in something bigger than us. Sometimes it's the state, sometimes it's communist ideals, and sometimes it's religion. I think that when communism failed, people started to desperately look to replace the dream with something else, and religion was just there. My sister and I started to go to church, even though my grandmother was an atheist.

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