Non-political film about politics: “Full Speed Westward”

14 May 2014

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By Tamar Svanidze

Journalist of agenda.ge

Agenda.ge,14 May 2014 Tbilisi,Georgia


Tbilisi is a city where old meets new and the two concepts merge to create a unique and vibrant environment.

On one side of the city is the sprawling mansion belonging to ex-Prime Minister and business tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili while on the opposite side is the larger-than-life Presidential Palace – which was once the home of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. Separating the two mansions is the Mtkvari River and the beautiful old city.

Similar to the contrasting location of the palaces, the political view and philosophy of the two political rivals are radically poles apart.

German filmmaker Stefan Tolz has used his cinematography skills to show this contrast in a travelling documentary named Full Speed Westward.

The Volga 21 in front of Bidzina Ivanishvilis residence: The idea of the film was to show the contrasts of opinions and ideas for the future of Georgia.

Prestigious Georgian film critic Gogi Gvakharia called it "the best Georgian film of 2013”.

To research his film, Tolz travelled around Georgia to find local opinion about the political changes experienced in Georgia over the past two years.

The director tells the story in a unique way – while travelling from region to region in his Soviet-made car, a Volga 21.

With Georgia close to his heart, Tolz said even though communism was "out of fashion” today in Georgia, his car still travelled well. He confessed at times he felt "a bit lost in Georgia” as the country had changed at a rapid speed in recent years.

Although the story is told by Georgian politicians, Tolz said his film was a "non-political film about politics” and was more about the people and how the country had tried to forge a path for itself following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Volga 21

It’s not a person or an animal – the main character of the movie is a vintage blue car Volga 21.

Tolz travelled around Georgia capturing his story while travelling in his unique vehicle. He visited all characters in the film from the driver’s seat and captured their reaction to the Soviet-made car.

Volga is an automobile brand that originated in the Soviet Union in 1956. Modern in design, it became a symbol of high status for Soviet "nomenklatura” people who held top positions or were involved in politics.

Volga cars were also traditionally used as taxi cabs, road police interceptors and ambulances (based on the estate versions).

The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is believed to be a fan of Volga cars.

This is a Soviet symbol. We do not know which future we will choose. When I was driving in Georgia’s various regions people saw this Volga and remembered the old time and said: The past was better. But was the past really better? Humans cannot change the past but they can point out their future, Tolz said.

I want to demonstrate that the Volga is not a myth and symbol of the nearest past but a real car in which I chose to travel, Tolz explained.

Six antagonists of the documentary

The movie's cast - five men and one woman – embark on a journey to find their fate and the future of their country.

While the main actors are people of authority who rule the country, they do not talk about politics but about their achievements and future plans.

The idea to shoot a documentary about Georgia’s recent political developments began when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Georgia in October 2011.

It was a very special day for Georgia and Georgians humorously called this day "Sarkozoba”, meaning the day was dedicated to Sarkozy.

"This was a historical moment for me”, Tolz emphasized.

Film's main character then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

As a filmmaker with 25 years’ experience behind me, [I noticed Sarkozy] smelled something interesting and important was going to happen. The country already had appointed leader Mikheil Saakashvili and was also dealing with a new, radically different leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who wasn’t hugely well-known before.

It was a very interesting situation. Exactly at this time I decided to set record on my camera and I started to follow the events. At the time I did not know how it would end, Tolz said.

In his brief introduction to Georgia’s modern history, Tolz used interviews with the film’s six main characters: Former President Mikheil Saakashvili, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, current Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, the Archibishop Kalistrate Metropolitan of Kutaisi, auto mechanic Dato Imnaishvili and historian Lasha Bakradze.

There are six antagonists. This means that you have six different opinions in the movie. I needed one woman to cast and I chose Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, Tolz said.

Ivanishvili and Saakashvili were chosen for the film as the main opponents to show how power was transferred from one political leader to another, and depict the people of Georgia chose as their leaders.

Georgia's former President Mikheil Saakashvili and film director Stefan Tolz during filming. 

Vehicle mechanic Dato Imnaishvili, who gives life to Tolz’s Volga, is the "voice” of the average Georgian in the movie. He did not like to talk about politics but he expressed his opinion in short sentences, which reflected the opinion of many Georgians.

When the film was shown to an audience, Tolz said when the Volga entered the mechanic, spectators were always interested in what the mechanic would say, as he was "the voice” of the people.

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani – the only female main character in the film – was chosen because she was Georgian but had a Western education. She had lived in Europe and had lived a European "experience”. She returned to Georgia and was involved with the ruling Government and was motivated to build something for her country.

Georgian women are stronger than men and Tea is the exact example of this, Tolz said.

Archibishop Kalistrate Metropolitan of Kutaisi was chosen to express the opinion of Orthodox believers – who represent 88 percent of the population, according to the study.

This film is interesting now but it will become more interesting in ten or twelve years’ time when it turns into a historical chronicle, Tolz believed.

First international student in Georgia

The German filmmaker describes himself as German in roots but Georgian in heart.

Tolz first came to Georgia as a student for a film internship in 1990.

The 1990s were known as an awful time in Georgia’s history - Civil War was raging. Famine and poverty were words commonly used to describe this period.

It was during this time the German student came in Tbilisi to study film-making at Tbilisi University of Theatre and Cinema.

The main problem he faced was the language barrier. The Soviet Union had recent collapsed and lessons were held only in the Georgian language. So he started to learn Georgian and was introduced to old Georgian filmography.

After leaving for many years he returned to Tbilisi in 2008 and purchased an apartment and his beloved car - a sky blue Volga 21.

This is not the first film Tolz has created. His feature documentary On the Edge of Time - Male Domains in the Caucasus (2001) received wide international attention and won several major awards.

Toz is also the co-owner of Filmpunkt in Cologne, one of the most renowned production companies for feature documentaries in Germany.

He has directed more than 20 films, taught at various international film schools and produced award-winning TV series and documentaries.

German filmmaker Stefan Tolz with his Volga 21.

Georgia is my inspiration. My heart is still in Georgia, he said.

Where to see "Full Speed Westward”

The next screening on arte.tv is scheduled for September, when the 2014 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Summit will be hosted in Wales, United Kingdom.

During the Summit, leaders are expected to discuss the issue of NATO’s eastward expansion and Georgia will be represented as one of the participants.

Full Speed Westward is now screening in movie cinemas across Georgia. The official premiere in Georgia was held in Tbilisi on April 24.

To help the film become interactive, a website named Volga Salon or Full Speed Westward was created where visitors can navigate to a specific part of the film or listen to the soundtrack of the documentary, which was created by Georgian modern musicians and groups.

German-French channel arte.tv aired the global premiere of the documentary Full Speed Westward – Georgia in Search of its Future last October.

The Georgian premiere of the film was held within the programme of the 14th Tbilisi International Film Festival (TIFF) on December 5 after it was successfully received in several European capitals.

The film has been nominated for the Impact Award 2014. It was awarded the Silver Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival TV Awards last month.

Watch the film's trailer below

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