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Alice Kanterian

Alice is a correspondent, covering Venice and other international film festivals.


Mestia International Short and Mountain Film Festival and the Svaneti Heritage

Mestia International Short and Mountain Film Festival took place 22-26 of August 2023, Alice Kanterian was a guest and covered for


Pictured: the jury of the film festival with festival director Khatuna Khundadze and deputy director of the festival Gegi Paliani

At the opening ceremony on  August 22, 2023, festival director Khatuna Khundadze drew attention to the local Svanetian heritage and culture. Mestia, this picturesque Georgian town located in the Caucasian mountains is hosting  the third edition of the Mestia International Short and Mountain Film Festival from the 22-26 of August at the local Art and Culture Center. The Art and Culture Center, run since 2018 by actor Gegi Paliani is quite impressive, and to my surprise currently hosts a photo exhibition about all round artist and genius Sergei Parajanov. 

This great film director and all round artist born in Georgia was of Armenian descent. In Armenia they say that the best Armenians are the ones from Georgia!

The city of Mestia is the heart of the Svaneti region, while the village of Ushguli, the highest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, is the soul of it.  10.000 habitants living in this region still speak the Svanetian language and have their own traditions. The Svans have their own cuisine and spices, and a proper language which is not a dialect I am told by Khatuna, and is not understandable for Georgians.

Preserved by its long isolation this Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses. So it does not come as a surprise that Khatuna came up with the idea of organizing an exceptional film festival based on the mountain theme. We have other examples of well established  international film festivals focused on the mountain theme. There is one in Brasov (Romania) and another in the Bavarian village of Tegernsee (Germany).  



This  Georgian mountain region is famous for its towers. The  Svaneti towers are well preserved due to funding by the Swiss Government made in order to preserve the traditional architecture of Svaneti. They inspired festival director Khundidaze who herself created  5 trophies in the form of these towers.

Nomen est omen, the Mestia International Short and Mountain Film Festival dedicates one of the trophies to famous rock climber Mikheil Khergiani. Queen Elisabeth used to call him „the tiger of the mountains”. He is from Mestia and his wife still lives here. His house has been transformed into a museum and attracts hiking tourists and mountaineers from all over the world.



And now Khundadze, has created a new attraction for Mestia.  This is the third edition and year upon year the festival is growing. It is divided into 2 sections this year, a new international short film section has been added to the program. Unlike the feature film section it is a section open to all topics. The feature film section is exclusively  dedicated to the mountain topic, not necessarily about climbing, but the  story should be related to the mountains or take place in a mountain region in order to comply with the festival regulations.

Both selections are international, and so I meet many tourists from abroad at the festival, as well as locals.  And the screenings are  fully booked  to my surprise. Tourists from Russia, Poland, Czech Reoublic, France and Israel, Austria and Germany and many other countries and locals got to know each other other, discussing the films during the break between the 2 sections of the festival. And in the Art and Culture Center of Mestia I  attended various screenings in the daily Short Film Section an impressive diversity of shorts from all over the world.   Here I would like to highlight three of them which were screened on  August 23:  Blaise (France), Nour Shams (Saudia Arabia) and Queen of the Mountains (Kyrgyzstan). 

On the same day, following the shorts I was impressed by the Slovakian documentary „Mountain Guides“, an entertaining approach to the hard and dangerous life of the mountain guides in the High Tatra. The film takes the viewers to the peaks  of the High Tatra. The DOP creates an immersive experience, the spectator gets the feeling of climbing  the mountains himself with these experienced guides and their clients. 



The German president of the jury Prof. Martin Rennert and his fellow members introduced  the film „Drawing Lots“. The original title „Lotto“ derives from the game that neighbours play in the yard.  In this yard, houses seem to be displaced like the lotto boxes.

Khalvashi masterfully offers the audience voyeuristic glimpses into the secrets and dreams as well as love and crime of the inhabitants of an apartment block with a courtyard which serves as an amphitheater for the mysterious power dynamics between its residents. The neighbors help eachother in this neighborhood located in the old town of Batumi, the story is based on the childhood memories of the director himself. “Drawing Lots”, this is the English title chosen by coproducer Ieva Norviliene. Director Zaza Khalvashi used actors from the local Batumi Theatre, along with non-actors like Manana Sakhelashvili, who still lives in one of the houses.

The shooting started in 2019 followed by postproduction in 2020. And then a tragedy occurred.  Zaza Kvalshili suffered a heart attack and died on February  4. Beautifully shot in black and white, creating a melancholic mood, the film was still in postproduction at this time and a rawcut of 90 minutes remained

His daughter Tamta Khalvashi together with her husband Giorgi Shvelidze, the DOP of the film completed the film.  His wife Nino Papunidze, casting director and ambassador of the film  recently presented it together with her daughter Ketevan Khalvashli at the Filmmuseum Munich, where it was screened during the Georgian Film Days in June. I meet her in Mestia at the opening, where she has been invited by Sali Choheli, the right hand of Khundadze, in charge of international relations and the press at the festival.  And later on 28.08, 2 days after the closing ceremony of the festival in Mestia.  I then returned to Batumi, where my journey began. 



I have also visited Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Kutaisi, the old capital, beautiful monasteries from the 4th and 6th century in Mtskheta, the monasteries in Gelati and Motsameta and now I return to Batumi. And here on my last day before my flight to Venice, Nino Paounidze takes me to the shooting location in the old town of Batumi. It is incredible, I am sitting with her and Manana Sakhelashvili, who lives here in the same courtyard which I have seen in the film and we are drinking, eating and they are teaching me to play Lotto, just as in the film.



Prof. Martin Rennert, the president of the UDK-Berlin University of the Arts till 2020 is currently
working as a consultant for academies and universities globall.He is a Jade Guest Professor in Taiwan and is member of the Executive Board of the Einstein Foundation. He was awarded a Honorary Senatorship in Berlin in 2019 and various other academic titles. The festival director got in touch with him through his Georgian wife. Ekaterina Rennert and Khatuna Khundadze know eachother for 20 years.

His fellow jurors are the Lithuanian producer Ieva Norviliene, the co-producer of the opening film Lotto, the Hungarian film critic, author and festival organizer Dr. Peter Muszatics, prominent Georgian author and head of the Head of the Department of Film Critisism and Theory Prof. Lela Ochiauri and well known Georgian film director, producer and writer Georgi Ovashvili.  He recently returned from Yerevan, where he was on the jury at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival which took place 9-16 of July.

Their task was not an easy one, 25 films were selected, very different formats and therefore difficult to compare in the currents selection and only 4 awards to be distributed.



At the closing ceremony which took place at the Mestia Art and Culture Center on 26.08 Khundadze thanked the main sponsor, the Georgian National Film Center, the Municipality of Mestia, for their support and the jury for her hard work. She thanked the jury in general and especially the president of the jury Prof. Martin Rennert. 

Prof. Martin Rennert and Ekaterina Rennert

She did not miss the chance to announce the wedding anniversary of Martin and Ekaterina Rennert and congratulate the couple. And to add the fact that it is Ekaterina the reason “why we are standing here today”.

The president of the jury took then the stage. “We have seen 25 films from 25 countries, and a couple of them very good. And several Georgian films out of competition.”

“Invigurating and fascinating glimpses into other people lives, showing a film is like inviting into your private rooms, everybody sees what you think” he continued. “As an artist you must make sure sure that languages must be kept alive and they are kept in our memory. Mestia had given us the possibility to experience this. I want to thank Khatuna for this incredible effort.
I have experience 4 days with great new friends like Prof. Lela Ochiauri, who has become a personal friend. I want to congratulate Ieva for her awards and many of you have read the books of Peter and seen the films of Georgi Ovashvili, We had today a great discussion. To make a long story short, I had a great time, watched great films. I personally learned a lot and it's never bad to learn a lot. All our decitions were unanimous and I'm proud of the awards.”.



The GRAND PRIX for the BEST FEATURE FILM goes to Peru and “Samichay, in Search of Happiness” | სამიჩაიბედნიერების ძიებაში. The 2020 Peruvian black-and-white film awarded at film festivals in Peru, Spain and Chile, written and directed by Mauricio Franco Tosso in his directorial debut follows the journey of a Quechua peasant and his cow Samichai in the Andes mountains of Peru. It is spoken in the Cuzco Quechua language and portraits the local traditions and here is the parallel to the Svaneti region which is a similarly isolated region with preserved traditions and its own language.

Best Mountain-themed Film from Slovakia- Mountain Guides | მთის გზამკვლევები

“You have seen that the achievement by camera is absolutely remarkable” Prof. Rennert said.

Best Short Film- Nour Shams | ნურ შამსი – 00:25:00 (Saudi Arabia)

Best Actor- the award goes to the Peruvian actor and artist Amiel Cayo Coaquira for his impressive performance in Samichay, in Search of Happiness”. “We were very moved by his acting”, Prof. Rennert says.

Special Mention to the Polish actress Ksenia Tchorzko for her remarkable performance in the Polish short film “ The delivery”. Ksenia who was present received the prize o stage. And afterwards there was a great reception organised outside.

with Polish actress Ksenia Tchorzko at the Sergei Parajanov exhibition at the closing of the film festival



We were 3 journalists from Germany, 1 from Canada and 1 from South Corea. David Nazadze from the Ministry of Tourism organized a great program, which included the visit of the Art Museum of Mestia where we discovered that the Georgian iconography is different to others as their saints show emotions on their face. He took us to the house of the “Tiger of the Mountains” Mikheil Khergiani, on a hiking tour to mount Ushba, to the picturesque village of Ushguli where we visited the church, the towers and 2 local artists. We even learned how to bake khachapuri (with cheese) and fresh lobiani in a family. We had a great time, people were so kind and food to die for.


with Sali Chokheli, South Korean film critic Jaewon Sheol and German film critic Thomas Schultze at the opening


There was Bruno Chatelin, the founder of who recommended me to Sali Chokheli, in charge of international relations at the festival in the beginning, and then shortly after this introduction Khatuna Khundadze entered the picture. We were instinctively/immediately connected and she invited me to attend the upcoming Mestia International Short and Mountain Film Festival. I was in Munich at that time in a rather melancholy mood sorting out my family belongings in the apartment where my family has lived for 50 years, and where my aunt had just passed away at the age of 101 while I was in Cannes. I was sad and I found these old pictures of her in which she looked like a charismatic Rita Hayworth, and now she was gone.  Among all of these old pictures were some of my father’s also, young and energetic climbing the mountains. I did know he was an alpinist, but it was rarely mentioned or discussed in our family.  He never shared his memories, he never told stories, and I had never seen any of his mountain climbing pictures.  And now I was holding the proof in my hands.  I was extremely impressed and proud of him. And instantly felt that the call from Mestia was meant to be. It was in this spirit that I accepted the invitation from Mestia feeling that this was a chance to reconnect to my past and find inspiration for the future.

It all eventually comes together, impressions, situations we lived in our childhood, our memories come together like pieces of a meaningful puzzle which brings it all together and inspires, gives you a new direction, a new path to take in life. And this path will include Georgia and especially Mestia International Short and Mountain Film Festival in the future. Thank you Sali, thank you Khatuna and thank you Gegi for the wonderful Svaneti heats you gave me and my fellow colleagues from the international press on stage towards the end of the closing ceremony.

Alice Kanterian

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