Revealing Tbilisi’s silent citizens: Reviewing Machavariani’s film “Sunny”3 min read
For decades, Georgia was known by its Soviet epithet “Sunny Georgia” (“Solnechnaya Gruziya”), which referred to the country’s warm weather and cheerful people. Today, with the country battling a population exodus, alongside numerous political and economic challenges, its moniker has fallen to the wayside.
In her first feature-length documentary Sunny (Mziuri), Georgian filmmaker Keti Machavariani turns the epithet on its head, focusing on the 60-year-old sociological researcher Mziuri “Mzia” Gogichaishvili as she interviews a wide section of Georgian society for various Caucasus Research Resource Centre (CRRC) surveys. The film premiered at the 2021 Hot Docs festival, where it was selected for an honourable mention.
The idea behind the film came from producer Tsisana Khundadze, who saw in her work as a CRRC researcher that many Georgians, even politicians, were unclear how public opinion polls work, and questioned its reliability. Yet, for Khundadze, such surveys are one of the few ways to highlight the voices of those sitting at home, those who do not actively participate in political society. Hence, for Machavariani, this film became about opening the doors and windows of these hidden citizens of Georgia, and of bringing their voices to decision-makers, who are often accused of not listening to the people they are meant to represent.
Operating as a fly on the wall, the camera crew watches as Gogichaishvili goes throughout the different districts of Tbilisi, knocking on every fourth door for an interview. The audience sees how she encounters numerous empty apartments, and is greeted with suspicion at the doors that do open. In an online discussion streamed by KineDok, Machavariani noted how people were actually more willing to open their doors to Gogichaishvili once it was explained that the cameras were not for journalism, but for cinema.
“Film is still, for Georgian society, very magical,” Machavariani said. “With this film, I found [that] people still love to talk to filmmakers and to be filmed.”
Though there was potential for the interviews to become repetitive, each one shown in the film is unique in its own way. Gogichaishvili interviews a range of characters, from a professional astrologist who discusses the female nature of the earth while an episode of Lost plays in the background to a mother at Christmas, answering the question, “Till what age did you believe in Santa Claus?” No matter the situation, Gogichaishvili is able to connect with the interviewee, relating her own life to theirs, whether that be a shared childhood in Racha or asking for her own astrological future to be told.
It is only towards the end of the film that the structure changes. First, Gogichaishvili becomes the interviewee, answering the same questions she normally asks others and standing as a single symbol of the people this film is meant to represent. Then, in a more shocking twist, the audience learns that Gogichaishvili’s brother had gone missing in Germany. The film ends very openly with Gogichaishvili about to board a flight and with no clear idea of whether she will ever return to Georgia.
Filmed over two years, this minimalist documentary is ultimately successful in highlighting Tbilisi’s silent citizens, bringing more awareness of the different strata of Georgian society to its audience, whether that be policymakers or laymen. Mziuri Gogichaishvili has since returned to Georgia, and has continued to engage in sociological research. Since the film’s release, her face has become more recognizable to Tbilisi’s population, opening even more doors for her.