Scary Mother by Georgian first-time director Ana Urushadze was the winner of the Golden Star at El-Gouna Film Festival, the festival's top feature film competition prize. The prize was awarded by a jury headed by US producer Sarah Johnson.
The film made its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival where it won the Golden Leopard award in the Best First Feature category in addition to an independent jury prize. It also won the top prize of Best Film at the Sarajevo Film Festival 2017. Despite its limited budget, Scary Mother is Georgia’s pick for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars.
The film's director, Ana Urushadze, daughter of Georgia's Oscar-nominated filmmaker Zaza Urushadze, belongs to the emerging new wave of Georgian cinema makers. In her first feature film, she presents a lively, and at others shocking, image of a society scared of the aspirations of a woman who is herself scared of her own desires and ambitions.
The film’s protagonist, Manana (Nato Murvanidze), a 50-year-old lady, sets off on a journey of rediscovery as she is torn between her normal life as a wife and mother of three and her ambition to write her first book.
Ahram Online met with Ana Urushadze and the film's two stars, actress Nato Murvanidze and actor Dimitri Tatishvili, in a conversation on the film, its making, and the challenges faced by the emerging new wave of Georgian cinema.
Ahram Online (AO): Why did you choose Scary Mother as the title of the movie?
Director Ana Urushadze (AU):
Director Ana Urushadze during Gouna Film Festival (Photo: courtesy of GFF)
Actually this was the first title that came to my mind and I felt it is right. I did not name it because it has any symbolic meaning, although later I realised it is a reflective title of how society could see a woman who wants to be different or independent.
AO: The strong performance of the actors is one of the most important factors of Scary Mother’s success, especially the character of Manana, the mother with all her complexities and feelings of guilt. What preparations went into this role?
Actress Nato Murvanidze (NM):
When I read the script it was really unusual for me because it was really a very good script and it was also a little bit dangerous because I was not really sure if I can do it. Then we had a lot of meetings with Ana and we talked a lot about the characters and all the lines of the script. We also talked about associations or related materials that could take me closer to the character, like books or figures or movies. The Austrian Nobel Prize winner for literature Elfriede Jelinek was one of these figures that came to my mind. For example, I was asking myself how far or close Manana is to Jelinek.
AO: Manana's husband is someone who loves his wife and helps her to do what she wants, but at the same time prevents her from finishing her book. Was this role confusing to play?
Actor Dimitri Tatishvili (DT):
The character of the husband could not be taken as good or evil because you cannot categorise people with one word and that what was attractive about this role. I think he was a very normal husband who tried to accept the changes happening to his wife and his house, but he failed. He liked stability rather than change.
AO: The film has several layers. It could not be taken only as a film that deals with feminism but also addresses about how far the artist is allowed to express himself or herself freely, whether a woman or a man. Was this the real focus of the film?
I did not write the script of the film with topics or problems that I want to highlight. I followed my characters and I was very interested in them and their development. The story takes place nowadays, so naturally it deals with current problematic topics. She is a woman, a mother and a housewife set in the realities of today. I did not have specific issues in mind. I just followed the story.
AO: Do you have a kind of social censorship in Georgia on freedom of creativity where the artist should not go beyond certain red lines because of social or cultural sensitivities?
When comparing to other countries and cultures, I would say that it depends. But generally speaking, yes, it is an issue and it is not easy for a writer to touch some socially sensitive subjects because she/he risks facing "unhealthy" attention.
AO: At some point we are not sure about the state of mind of the mother. Is she insane or is she just struggling to find herself? How would you describe her?
(Photo: still from Scary Mother)
I like that people have different interpretations and they perceive it differently. I do not categorise Manana as a person with mental problems. People have different conditions or traditions when they create something. In her case, she was torn between being a mother and a wife and a good daughter, and being a writer. She felt that she only has one choice and that there is not much time left. But also it depends on the audience.
Maybe she looks crazy to her husband, family, and the neighbours because of the pressure she had and because she wants to concentrate on what does she wants to do. It is not a mental issue but a result of the atmosphere around her. She is an unusual person. She goes through a long process until she finds herself at the end. During this process she is not her real self and only at the end she becomes more stable.
AO: In the film, questions are raised about Manana's manuscript. How appropriate it is, how valuable, etc. Through this, are you judging quality in art production, or the freedom of creativity itself?
The film is not about the quality of her art. What happens in the film follows a dramatic sequence. Some like the book and some do not. There should be some who believe in her and some who don’t.
AO: Does the choice of a communist-era building as the main location in the film have any symbolic significance?
I follow my intuition and when I feel it is right, then it is right. I felt this building was absolutely right for the character. For sure it does have a reference to a certain era, but I did not think about this when I was choosing the building.
AO: Speaking about intuition, being the daughter of Georgia's Oscar-nominated filmmaker Zaza Urushadze, does this feed your artistic intuition?
I am just saying that it is how I do things and how it works for me. It does not mean this is the right way to do things. For some other artists it is better to think and to calculate every step. But to tell you the truth, we did not actually have the luxury of time to deeply analyse every step.
AO: Why you chose Scary Mother as your first feature film?
(Photo: still from Scary Mother)
I chose this story because I wanted to do it. I wrote it one year ago and the moment we got the funding we started the shooting. I believe if you want something you have to do it if you can.
AO: Was it easy to secure the funding?
The Georgian National Film Centre finances some films each year, so I submitted my film project and I got the funding. We started to shoot after a month. Then there was also co-production from Estonia and they helped us regarding film colouring. It is a low budget film and what happens to low budget films happened to us. There was some shortening and cut outs, so we removed some scenes because of that. But it did not affect the story.
AO: All the actors of Scary Mother are professional actors. What motivated them to take the risk of working in the first feature film of a young film director?
First of all, it is because of the script. With a good script there is a chance to have a good movie. Also our profession is associated with risk taking and if you do not risk when the script is good, well, when will you do it?
AO: What are the challenges faced by the new generation of Georgian filmmakers?
Funding is our biggest challenge. Two films only have the chance to be financed from the state so there are many other films with no chance to have the funds because also you have to be financed in your country to be able to have a foreign co-production. We are a group of skillful and professional filmmakers who mainly do not have the chance to be a part of the industry. We know each other and we are part of each other's projects and we started to have our place in the scene with many of us having their films in international film festivals.
But the film situation in Georgia is really difficult because people don’t really have this culture of going to theatres or cinemas. Also we don’t have art house cinemas. But I believe this might change in the future.
AO: After few major awards for you first film, how do you think about your future?
I want to shoot another film as fast as possible because what I enjoy the most is the shooting process. I just hope to have more opportunities in terms of funding. In every case I will stick only to the films that I like and the stories that I am interested in.
(Photo: still from Scary Mother)
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture