Director Lana Gogoberidze is a central figure in Georgian film. But she is also at the heart of a remarkable female filmmaking dynasty, spanning a century of cinema history.
Gogoberidze played a crucial role in the development of a distinctly female, explicitly political cinema that emerged in the Soviet Union across the 1970s and 1980s. In a career spanning more than six decades and 13 films, she has continually placed women’s experiences on the big screen, interrogating their changing roles and exploring their intimate interior lives even as Soviet Society swirled around them.
Appropriately for a filmmaker preoccupied with the connection between the personal and political, Gogoberidze has also frequently drawn upon her own family history. Many of her films reconstruct experiences from her own life and that of her mother, a fellow filmmaker who suffered terribly at the hands of Stalinist oppression. Now aged 92, this Gogoberidze has passed the baton to a whole new generation of Georgian directors — including her own daughter.
Lana Gogoberidze was born in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on 13 October 1928. Her father, Levan, had been a Communist party worker, while her mother, Nutsa, was a filmmaker.
Nutsa made her first feature film at the age of 25, only a year before Lana’s birth. Alongside Esfir Shub and Olga Preobrazhenskaya, she was one of the USSR’s first credited female directors, closely associated with many of the filmmakers who would go on to be credited as titans of Soviet cinema: Alexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Eisenstein, and Mikhail Kalatozov. She made three films in the 1920s and 30s: Their Kingdom (1927), Buba (1930) and Desperate Valley (1934).
But Nutsa’s artistic career was ultimately cut short by the tyrannical purges of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. In 1937, her husband was murdered by the secret police, and Nutsa was to a prison camp in the Arctic Circle. She would be exiled there for the next 12 years. The young Lana was initially sent to an orphanage before being rescued by her aunts. She did not see her mother again until adulthood, when she returned to greet her daughter as stranger. Nutsa never made another film, and rarely spoke of her former filmmaking life.
Despite this troubled history, Lana Gogoberidze dreamed of following in her mother’s footsteps. However, when she finished school in 1946 she was unable to make the transition into film. There was no film institute in Tbilisi (there wouldn’t be for another three decades) and as the daughter of two parents persecuted by Stalin, studying at the Russian State Film School (VGIK) in Moscow simply was not an option. Gogoberidze channelled her energy into academia instead, studying English and American literature and becoming an expert in the poetry of Walt Whitman. Really, she was biding her time. In 1953, Stalin died, travel restrictions relaxed, and Gogoberidze finally made it to Moscow. In 1959, she graduated from VGIK ready to fulfil her birth right.
From her first student film, Gelati (1957), to her most recent feature, Golden Thread (2019), Gogoberidze has made 13 films across six decades. She is often described as the first feminist filmmaker in the Soviet Union. In fact, she came to prominence during a period in which several women were using the medium to interrogate women’s lives, and she certainly had both predecessors and peers.
In the 1960s, Gogoberidze became associated with a wave of “women’s films” coming from Soviet filmmakers such as Kira Muratova and Larisa Shepitko. This label is reductive given the clear stylistic differences between these three filmmakers, but it does reflect a degree of thematic overlap. Shepitko’s Wings (1966) and Muratova’s Brief Encounters (1967) are both films that, like much of Gogoberidze’s work, interrogate the interior lives of dissatisfied women as they come to terms with their changing status in an evolving Soviet society.
What does make Gogoberidze distinctive, however, is her embrace of the label “women’s cinema”. Whereas Shepitko actively rejected the term as patronising, Gogoberidze always leant into this definition. In practice, this has meant an unflinching commitment to female subjectivity, a serious approach to exploring women’s professional and domestic lives, and explicitly feminist politics.
Gogoberidze showed an affinity for women’s stories right from the start of her career. Her first feature, Under One Sky (1961), was made to mark the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Union. It tells the story of three women at three distinct moments in Georgian history, in 1921, 1941 and 1961.
As this structure suggests, past and present live in tandem throughout many of Gogoberidze’s films. History acts as an active force that refuses to relinquish its grasp on our daily lives — something that. Gogoberidze perhaps knows better than anyone. As she explained during the production of Golden Thread: “The characters are people of my generation, weighed down by the Soviet past. For some this past means eternal captivity; for others a precondition for freedom and defiance… is the past our burden or treasure?”
Gogoberidze constantly uses her work to process the past. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of her films chart the relationships between mothers and daughters. The explicitly autobiographical Waltz on the Pechora (1992) follows the parallel destinies of a mother, exiled to Siberia, and her daughter, sent to an orphanage in 1930s Georgia. Here, Gogoberidze uses colour film to portray the daughter’s (or her own) narrative thread, and black-and-white for the mother’s (or Nutsa’s) strand. This distinction highlights the gap between recovered, reconstructed memory, and speculative, imagined narrative.
Her most famous film, Some Interviews on Personal Matters (1978), also draws upon Gogoberidze’s autobiography. Here, the heroine Sofiko (Sofiko Chiaureli, recognisable to Georgian cinema fans from The Colour of Pomegranates), is a journalist struggling to balance home and work. She has also grown up with a mother in exile, and there’s even a flashback sequence showing a teenage Sofiko reuniting with her estranged parent after a decade apart. Some Interviews was the first of Gogoberidze’s films to gain wider attention in the West, screening at festivals internationally and winning numerous prizes. It’s easy to see why this quirky and accessible film connected so widely. Some Interviews illustrates timely second wave feminist ideas — the struggles faced by working women, the “double shift”, childcare — with a warmth that transcends geographical and political specificities.
As Nutsa’s films had been suppressed and were, until recently, lost, Gogoberidze never saw her mother’s work growing up. Nevertheless, Gogoberidze seems to have quietly absorbed her influence. Like her documentarian mother, the director often incorporates documentary techniques into her films. Some Interviews uses the heroine’s job as a journalist to incorporate staged interviews with “real women” talking about their lives, the interviews juxtaposed with the unfolding central plot. These techniques allow Gogoberidze to insert an ongoing commentary about wider society into a film ostensibly centred on one woman’s struggle. The result is a portrait of women across the age and class spectrum, a collective rather than singular story, and a beautiful illustration of the feminist principle that the personal is political.
Georgia is renowned for its rich film culture, and in recent years the country has enjoyed a resurgence of creativity. Many of the most interesting emerging filmmakers are women, and while their work is diverse and distinctive, they inevitably build on Gogoberidze’s foundations. We feel her influence in Nana Ekvtimishvili’s and Simon Gross’s My Happy Family (2017), which probes the role of women in the domestic space from a feminist perspective, and in films such as Ana Urushadze’s Scary Mother (2017) and Dea Kulumbegashvilli’s Beginnings, which situate us within an uncompromising female subjectivity. Like their trailblazing predecessor, these directors see ordinary women’s lives as a rich and serious subject for art, a lens through which to view the whole of society.
Gogoberidze’s legacy is clearest however, when we look at her own family. Thanks to her persistence and profile, Gogoberidze has been able to posthumously restore Nutsa’s reputation. In the 00s, Gogoberidze located the negatives for one of her mother’s films in a Moscow archive, and in 2013, her experimental documentary Buba (1930) was publicly screened outside Russia for the first time in decades. The new print was greeted as a revelatory lost classic, a significant landmark in the development of the documentary and a missing piece of Soviet cinema history.
And, just as Gogoberidze inherited her filmmaking mantle from her mother, the cycle continues with her own daughter, Salomé Alexi. In 2014, Alexi released her own acclaimed first feature, Line of Credit, a comedy-drama on a middle-aged Tbilisi’s shopkeeper struggling to keep her family afloat. Alexi’s lightly comic tone is distinctive, but the thematic overlaps with her mother’s work are clear. The film that offers a candid portrait of a woman’s inner life — all set against the backdrop of a shifting society.
The story of the Gogoberidze women is one that has tracked the shifting tides of politics and power in Georgia. With any luck, it is a dynasty that will continue to shape Georgian cinema for many years to come.