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SUNDANCE 2021 World Cinema Documentary Competition

Salomé Jashi • Director of Taming the Garden

“There were so many sub-stories and unspoken feelings that remained hidden behind the fences”

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- We spoke to Georgian director about her poetic film, which documents the incredible journey undertaken by some centuries-old trees

Salomé Jashi • Director of Taming the Garden
(© Sergi Barisashvili)

Playing in the World Cinema Documentary Competition of the Sundance Film Festival, Taming the Garden [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Salomé Jashi
film profile
]
is a surreal ode to both nature and human nature. In it, majestic images of centuries-old trees floating on the sea, like disturbing dreams, take shape before the viewer’s eyes. Director Salomé Jashi explains more about the film.

Cineuropa: How did you get permission to shoot, and how did you earn the trust of the people you followed with your camera?
Salomé Jashi: Much of the transplantation work was either happening in public spaces or was visible from a public space. So, in some cases, we would just show up at a place where the uprooting was happening and start filming without asking for official permission. But mainly, we built up a network of contacts in many different locations, establishing a more personal level of trust and connections with the engineers and the people employed to carry out the work. As we were filming for months and they got to know us very well, we received permission to film fairly discreet episodes from up close. With my researcher, we were often surprised and asked ourselves how we could possibly get access to film basically every stage of the process, which is also quite political, considering the political bias and power of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire behind the scenes. But somehow, we were let in. I think one reason is also that they were proud of what they were doing, lifting over 1,000-ton trees with their roots and soil, and carrying them over land and sea. They were happy to exhibit how exceptional the work was.

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Gaining access to the villagers involved in the process, the owners – that was a much bigger challenge. We would be labelled as either a governmental or an oppositional TV channel. They would go quiet or just leave as soon as the camera was rolling. It took a lot of determination and explanation to make them feel at ease with the camera. “Who am I in comparison to Him?” one elderly woman asked me, off the record. There were so many sub-stories and unspoken feelings that remained hidden behind the fences.

Your images are very powerful, like a short, edgy poem. Where does your particular aesthetic come from? How did you craft it and what are your influences?
When I film, I try to look at each shot as an individual scene. It needs to have multiple elements, not just one focus. And for this purpose, I use wide angles and spaced-out cutting. It is a real pleasure to capture a single shot that manages to tell a story, has some kind of development to it and wags its tail at the end. To me, using fewer cuts means staying closer to the authentic, creating a feeling of presence, and enjoying the pure reality of the moment.

My influences probably come from other films and paintings, be they the documentaries of Sergey Dvortsevoy and Sergei Loznitsa, or works by Leos Carax, Gideon Koppel, Ulrich Seidl and Roy Andersson. In terms of paintings, I admire Pieter Bruegel along with other Flemish painters. In my films, I mostly use a wide depth of field, where more or less everything is in focus. There are shots that I treat like tableaux, like moving paintings, evoking the feeling of a mixture between the real and the unreal.

What are you trying to tell us with your movie?
That’s a tricky question. There are many things I would like to say with this movie – maybe a few too many, in fact. None of them are straight up in your face. It’s entirely up to the viewers to uncover these layers – they can uncover as much as they want, as much as they see fit, coming from their own perspective and experience. To me, this film is like the experience of hiking in nature. Maybe you hear a howl in the distance for a moment or notice the grass swaying oddly in the gentle breeze, or you feel a sudden gust of cold air on your sweaty neck. At times, these moments evoke visceral feelings, and at other times, they are pure facts. In this way, the film becomes an individual experience.

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