Q&A: Rusudan Chkonia, Director of Keep Smiling
Dignity and Despair
Keep Smiling, Georgian filmmaker Rusudan Chkonia's
narrative feature debut, screens this week in ADFF's New Horizons
Competition. A memorable blend of comedy and melancholy farce, the
film is about women who enter a beauty contest for mothers, only to
discover the show is a farce that exploits their misery for
entertainment. Chkonia, who is a guest of the Festival this week,
took some time to answer our questions.
Keep Smilingis inspired by
true stories. What were the most touching aspects of the stories
you encountered that led you to make this film?
I always find it interesting to observe how people behave in
extreme situations - when they have to do things they would never
have imagined doing normally. Some years ago, when I was shooting a
documentary about homeless children, I visited a shelter called
Bediani. It was a shelter for families who, due to difficult social
conditions, found themselves out on the street. In Bediani, I met
Tamar, a very intelligent, beautiful mother of seven, who told me
about her struggle for survival in Tbilisi and how she even took
part in a beauty contest for mothers to win a cash prize. This
beauty contest was a deeply humiliating and disappointing
experience for her. It was a tragic story, but at the same time, it
was so absurd that I could hardly restrain myself from laughing.
That's how I decided to make this film. I also want to mention that
all the stories and characters in the film are invented, with no
resemblance to Tamar.
What were the challenges you faced when making Keep
It took me seven years to develop the script, mainly due to lack
of funding. During that time, I won several awards including one
from the Berlinale Co-production Market. Despite the awards,
getting funding in Georgia was still difficult, so I started
shooting with little money. I can't describe my joy when I finally
received financing from Georgia. I would have been unable to make
the film without the assistance of the Ministry of Culture and
Monument Protection of Georgia. I was also very fortunate to get a
brilliant French co-producer like Nicolas Blanc on board.
Another challenge was the casting of actresses, which took eight
months to complete. Initially, I looked for actresses that would
resemble the women I had imagined. I later realised that I would
never find such women. I think a director should be adaptable to
circumstances and actors. Good actors should be given some freedom,
and the right impulse is sure to come.
When developing the characters, how did you deal with
the issue of creating and/or avoiding stereotypes?
The script is very important for me; and in order to avoid the
issues relating to stereotypes, one should simply work a lot on the
script. As for the characters, I wanted each of them to represent a
different social layer. Their motivation to participate in the
beauty contest is also diverse. I think I succeeded: for Irina, the
main motivation is the apartment and her children; for Gvantsa, it
was to play the violin in public; and for Tamuna, it was to prove
to her young lover that, despite her age, she is still
You have a special connection to Abu Dhabi - you lived
and worked here a few years ago. Can you tell us about your
experience in the UAE?
Yes, that's true - I have a special connection to Abu Dhabi. In
2007, I won a Pearl Grant at the Middle East Film Festival and in
2008 I studied at the New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi. It was my
first experience in the Middle East and I have great memories of
the city. This is a place I always want to come back to.
What are the stories from Georgia that you feel should
be told in cinema?
Here in Georgia everything is a source of inspiration. My
country is going through a very interesting period, following two
revolutions, a civil war, a war, several ethnic conflicts, and an
economic crisis. Georgia today is certainly a great place for
What are your thoughts on Georgia today?
Just a month ago we had elections. For the first time since
independence in 1991, the power has been transferred through an
election rather than a revolution. During the last 15 years my
country experienced all kinds of ups and downs that one could
imagine. We have experienced wars, a civil war, and we have half a
million refugees right now. Political life in Georgia is never calm
and easy. Georgia, a pint-sized Caucasian country of 4.5 million
people, has a strategic importance for Russia - its former colonial
master that involuntarily relinquished control in 1991 - and the US
as well as Europe, and now the country is searching for a political
Are there any new projects you're already working
I'm developing three feature-film scripts right now. Two of them
are black comedies and one is a drama. They are very different from
Keep Smiling screens at ADFF on October 18 at 7:00 PM
and October 20 at 6:30 PM at VOX 6.