By Martin Kudláč.
The emerging Georgian filmmaker Ana Urushadze unveiled her first feature-length directing effort Scary Mother, a Georgian-Estonian co-production made at the prestigious Swiss showcase in Locarno. While introducing her bleak psychological drama about emancipation onto the festival circuit, she nabbed the Swatch First Feature Award at the Concorso Cineasti del Presente section. Scary Mother also made a splash at Sarajevo Film Festival, taking home the top honor, the Heart of Sarajevo, and got submitted as Georgia´s pick for the Best Foreign-language Film Academy Award for the 90th Academy Awards. Urushadze accompanied her debut at the inaugural edition of the Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival where the film screened as part of the Best of Fest, which spotlights worthy new arrivals of the current season ripe for Chinese distribution. This is the crucial purpose of the newly mounted film festival, to support domestic and international distribution under the aegis of locally revered writer-director-producer Jia Zhangke and veteran festival director Marco Muller.
Film International had the opportunity to sit down with Ana Urushadze among the walls of the Ancient City of Pingyao nicknamed “the Wall Street of the East” as it became the financial center of China during the Qing Dynasty. Urushadze is an alum of Georgia’s Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film University and a daughter of the Georgian filmmaker Zaza Urushadze whose 2003 feature Tangerines was shortlisted for the Best Foreign-language Film Academy Award.
Can you walk me through the process of development of your feature debut Scary Mother?
Well, it started with a short film. I tried to shoot a short film about this story but when I submitted the script for funding, it got rejected. So I turned it into a feature-length story and I got financed.
How long were you writing the script?
I had the script for the short film already written. That was more or less the beginning, including the dream scene, roughly the first twenty minutes. When I had this one, it took one summer to write and arrange the story. Then I started revising the draft, delete or add some things here and there. The shooting started in November and up until the shooting, I was tinkering with the script.
What was the first idea behind the story, its conception?
Well, as far as I remember, I wanted to make a story about the husband but after a while I switched to the wife. Regarding the idea, I try to not relate it to my family but I always mention that my sister is a writer and my mother used to write so maybe the idea of a female writer comes from there, even if it sounds kind of weird.
Why did you change the protagonist from husband to wife?
It became more interesting following the wife. It became more intense and serious in the story.
Does the change relate somehow to a social dimension? Maybe in Georgia?
Surely, there is a kind of an aspect tied to Georgia in the film, but I do not like to generalize the story this way. It is a story that happened to this particular woman. The film surely involves some themes but I want to avoid saying it is referring to an exact situation or reflecting a particular situation in Georgia.
I meant the situation of women in Georgian society, since the protagonist rebels in her away against some stereotypes.
Sure, she does rebel when you look at it like this and of course, there is this issue of being a very limited as a housewife. And the issue is quite problematic in Georgia as well.
Would say Scary Mother is a feminist film?
For some viewers, it is a feminist film and for others, it is not. So it really depends how a particular viewer perceives it in his or her way.
Was your intention to shoot a feminist film? Or were you feeling like a feminist doing the film?
To be honest, I really did not think about the film this way while shooting it. Obviously, when you look at the story with the housewife doing her thing and it being a problem for her husband, you can perceive it as a feminist.
But do you consider the story universal?
For me, nearly everything is universal in a way. You always find some universal or familiar attributes everywhere.
You are using the meta-story device having a story about protagonist writing a story. Why?
It felt interesting that she was writing about her family even though she claims she is not writing about them. I was interested in reactions of people featured in the protagonist´s story and if people would believe her. It seemed an interesting angle to pursue.
How did institutions react to your script when you were raising the funds for the production?
The jury that was deciding on funding accepted the script so I presume they liked it. We really did not have an in-depth discussion about the story with the jury. There were some suggestions but we did not talk a lot about it.
There is not many films coming from Georgia, so you got lucky.
Yes, I got very lucky. That year, only two debuts got financed, including Scary Mother. I was not really expecting to get the funds. I already submitted two scripts before and both of them got rejected, so I got used to be rejected. Getting the funds was a very nice surprise for me.
Did you have any plan B, or was the materialization of the film depending on Georgia Film Fund?
There was no plan B.
What is the situation regarding film industry in Georgia like, especially for emerging filmmaker?
I do not really like to speak for others because for some, it may be very hard and for some, not. Regarding me, surely, there were some problems during the shooting since the budget was really low and we did not have enough time. But this was such a huge thing for me doing the first feature-length film that I really could not concentrate on problems. It was a blessing that I got this opportunity so the whole process of making Scary Mother was pure joy for me.
Did you change anything during the shooting compared to the final draft?
Some things were omitted. The major change is that several passages from the script were not shot. We deleted them from script since we did not have the luxury of having enough time to shoot them.
Did that change the structure of the film?
Not the film’s structure, just the ending.
The locations picked for the story are very intriguing. How did you come up with them?
That happened very quickly. We did not really have any place at all before the shooting. A couple of weeks before the shooting, we were walking around, doing some location scouting. Once we saw the main building, it was like character itself, and we were lucky enough that in front of it was a shop that was closing so we could turn it into the stationery shop for the story. Those were the two dominant places and regarding others, since we did not have enough time, we used whatever we could.
How many days to shoot did you have, and how long did the final cut take?
One week for the shoot. We did not really have many cuts; we had quite long takes and we just rearranged them in the editing room.
Why did you shoot long takes, and did you gather a lot of footage?
It felt right for the scenes to keep the camera rolling. We did not do many takes; it was really an average number. If we had more time, I would have definitely shot more.
Do you regret something or would you do something another way?
Naturally, when the time passes, you think you would change something. But I do not really regret anything. I hate to regret anything. You can’t look at it this way. The thing is, you poured everything you had at the very moment into the project. And I know that in that particular moment, there was no other way to do it.
Martin Kudláč is a freelance film journalist and independent scholar contributing regularly to a variety of online and offline outlets. He holds PhD. in Aesthetics and is an external lecturer and researcher at The Institute of Literary and Art Communication at Constantine the Philosopher University at Nitra, Slovakia; a film industry reporter; and co-author of the upcoming book Images of the Hero in the Cultural Memory (Constantine the Philosopher University Press).