Waiting, Drinking and Filming

Making documentaries involves living together with your characters. It implies a lot of waiting, since the people you want to film can offer only parts of their lives to the camera. Often, your characters treat you as guests – you are guests into their lives. In a country like Abkhazia – and generally in the Caucasus – where hospitality is a supreme value, being a guest becomes an occupation in itself. I vaguely remember a parable told by our host during a feast: a man accidentally receives at home the killer of his son, feeds him and lets him go. Basically, the moral was that an Abkhaz is never allowed to kill a guest in his own house. Once he’s out in the street, that’s a different story.

During these 6 years in which I repeatedly visited Abkhazia for this film, I was invited on several occasions to official banquets, picnics or family gatherings. They were all memorable. If you are invited to table, you can expect a highly ritualized event, that will involve sitting for a day and/or a night, eating and drinking. Each drink has to be announced by a toast, and people around the table compete in inventing the most poetic and creative wording. The sequence of the toasts, the order of the people who make them and their subjects is also pretty regulated. Never in my life, have I heard so often in a conversation the words “harmony”, “peace”, “martyrs”, “nation”, “God”… (read more on Abkhazia here)

Of course, I wanted to film such a family gathering. During one of our last shooting sessions, we were invited to visit the family of one of the main doctors in the Primate Institute. We started with a halt at the paternal grandmother. First chacha (the local brandy), then wine was generously poured. By the time we moved to the maternal grandma, my team was already collapsing. We were treated very warmly, it was just bad luck: we were all already stomach-sick, after an unfortunate dinner in a restaurant two days before. As the head of our small gang, I was stuck on a chair next to the host, making conversation. Filming and – in the same time – being a character in the frame. The cinematographer, the sound-man and the assistant camera took turns and went out to throw up, sleep or just lie down and recover. I must say that the stylistic result was special: the scene has a sort of heavy, static feel that fits with the dialogue and its dramatic purpose…

Tarzan_Family Party
The family banquet scene

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