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TRIBECA 2021

Levan Koguashvili • Director of Brighton 4th

“I strongly believe in faces”

by 

- The Georgian director shows that when you live in Brighton Beach, you don’t really live in America; you only go to America sometimes

Levan Koguashvili  • Director of Brighton 4th
(© Eliso Sulakauri)

World-premiering in the International Narrative Competition of the Tribeca Film Festival, Brighton 4th [+see also:
trailer
interview: Levan Koguashvili
film profile
]
sees a former wrestler (Olympic legend Levan Tediashvili) heading to Brooklyn’s “Little Odessa” to check on his son – burdened by debt and stuck in a boarding house with other immigrants, all trying to make ends meet. We chatted to director Levan Koguashvili about the film.

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Cineuropa: You really notice people’s faces in the film. How did you find them, especially Levan?
Levan Koguashvili: I strongly believe in faces. If you have the right faces, you have the right movie, more or less. They carry more than just information about the character. You have to adapt your directorial style to them because the face is the truth. Usually, the faces I find belong to non-professional actors, even though in Brighton 4th it’s a combination of both.

For the main role, I tried to cast men who looked like wrestlers, and then I moved onto wrestlers [laughs]. Levan is a legend in Georgia; he was named the best athlete of the 20th century. We heard that he was struggling with his heath and his hearing, however, so he was the last on my list. Once, in Iran, the Shah was so impressed that he asked him what he wanted. There was another wrestler in jail, sentenced to death. So Levan said: “I want you to release this guy!” He earned him his freedom through wrestling! He is this unbeatable champion, but he also lost a son in the war – they went there together, and he died in his arms. You can see all of that in his face. No wonder it’s so unique.

His age and health issues actually helped this character, making him more fragile. Then again, so is everyone else around him! The whole community you show here is older.
I haven’t thought so much about their age. But I made my first films about illegal immigrants, back when I was still studying film in New York. I just felt an emotional connection to it. At that time, Georgians would travel to the States on tourist visas and overstay their welcome – I was pretty familiar with this world. If I had shot this film in 2008, well, it would have been a whole other story. Now, 12 years have gone by, so it felt like I was coming back to my roots. But as for their age… Thinking about the character who is always singing, I just wanted to work with him again. When we wrote the script, I said: “We should create some scenes for Kakhi Kavsadze!” It was an actor-driven choice.

Their life in this boarding house feels so claustrophobic. Even the corridors seem to be getting narrower as the story goes on.
One of the reasons why I wanted to make this film was this place. We shot in a real boarding house in Brighton Beach; I moved there to live with these guys. This world was very interesting to me: it’s tragic, it’s funny. I just wanted to show this community – it was one of the cinematic assignments that I gave myself. It’s a group portrait, so perhaps my inspiration was Fellini’s Roma? It’s got all these different characters living in different rooms, although my approach is much less eccentric. When people would arrive in New York, that’s where they went. It’s so much cheaper.

When you decide to leave your country looking for a better future, you are a dreamer. Something similar could be said about gambling, though, which almost everyone here seems to be struggling with.
In our film, gambling was introduced for a different reason. The original story, the one that really took place, had to do with drugs. At that time, many immigrants would die of overdoses – their coffins were then sent back home. Once, someone saw this drug addict on the street, called his father in Georgia, and he came. He saved him – that was the real story. But because my first feature [Street Days] was about drug addicts, too, I didn’t want to repeat myself. We changed it to gambling, which is actually a massive problem in Georgia.

There is always this battle when one wants to build a new life while staying close to one’s national identity. But there aren’t many interactions with the outside world in the film.
When it comes to Brighton Beach, there was this joke that the guys who live there don’t really live in America: they only go to America sometimes. It was very characteristic of this first wave of immigration. They didn’t know the language, and that’s why they went there – suddenly, they were surrounded by all these Georgians and Russians. It felt like you were still in the Soviet Union! Later on, the bravest would start venturing out, but it served as a stepping stone. Of course, time has passed, and now so many of them are Americanised. If they’ve had kids, it’s a whole different story. But when I was still in New York, people would immediately head to these familiar-looking places. They just felt more secure there.

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