Born in 1990, Ana Urushadze made her Locarno debut as one of the youngest filmmakers in the festival’s prestigious ‘Concorso Cineasti del presente’ section — where her film Scary Mother took out the best First Feature award.. The Georgian director’s age doesn’t show throughout her debut film, however, there’s no air of amateurity, but rather a complex understanding of tension, character, and the sociopolitical elements that underpin the work. We caught up with Urushadze — alongside her lead actress, Nata Murvanidze — at Locarno to discuss the filmmaking process in Georgia, the hurdles in acquiring funding for the film, and the dynamics of directing experienced and well-known actors.
How did you meet to bring the film together?
Urushadze: How did we connect? It just happened that I knew her [Nata Murvanidze] because… actually, she is a famous actress in Georgia, so I knew of her. When I was writing the script I somehow applied her face to the character in my mind. I hoped that she would be able to play her.
It grew out of a short film, right?
Urushadze: Yes, I wrote a short script. We submitted it to the Georgian National Film Centre. It got rejected and then I somehow turned it into a longer, feature-length film. I submitted it and it got financed.
Had you worked on much before Scary Mother?
Urushadze: I was working [on films] while I was studying in university. I have done two shorts for finals, and then I made one more short. But, you know, I didn’t feel like they were complete works, something serious because it was studying process. I have done a couple of shorts and then now it’s more serious because the group was large group of professionals.
How did the dynamic play out, as a young filmmaker and an established actress — and quite an experienced crew — did you have to learn a lot while you were making the film?
Urushadze: To me, it’s part of being a professional. When I’m talking to the group of actors, it doesn’t matter for them if I am a beginner or not. They are saying yes and they are approaching the work as professionals.
Murvanidze: Because they like it, her script.
Urushadze: They don’t make you feel like you’re a beginner or that you don’t have experience. I have never felt it from anyone.
It sounds like a constructive environment to work on a film. Nata, your performance throughout the film carries a certain energy, that really draws an audience into the film. I was curious as to how you approached the role?
Murvanidze: When I read this script, it was a very interesting and good script. That’s not the usual situation. Not in Georgia. It is not a usual thing. For me it was very strange. I thought that it was very hard character, it wasn’t easy for me to do it. But I think about many different people we mimic. At the beginning, when we started working on the film, we thought about the character for about two months. I mean, not rehearsed, but talking about this character’s relationship between other characters, and how this line goes through all of the script and movie. So we worked on that. Then our meeting about this character stayed somewhere in our conscious. After that, the work for me was not so hard: we start to work, we start to make a movie and we didn’t talk.
It was quite established at that stage?
Urushadze: It was like before shooting, the actual shooting process, we took the notes. She likes to investigate the character, it is different — some actors do not like it. Some actors don’t like to talk at all, and it doesn’t mean that it’s good or it’s bad, but she is like that. She likes to talk it out investigate and research. This process was very pleasurable. But during the actual shooting, me and Nata, we didn’t talk at all. Because she caught the aura of the character and it stuck with her throughout the shooting, so I have not told anything to her. She appeared this character on since the first day.
Do you feel like over the course of workshopping and defining this character that your conceptions shifted at all, in how you expected her to be? Did the script develop much over time — or was it quite fixed throughout?
Urushadze: I know what you are talking about. Yes, it changed, because during our talk — not during the shooting process — is when we talked about the character. Talking is a great experience. It was really helpful for me. We understood that [the character] was more complex than I imagined her before. She appeared more dramatic. Her facial expression, her posture, everything more dramatic than I have imagined her before. Then during this backroom process, we understood that it was a correct thing; it was more correct and more suitable for this character, so we agreed on that and it happened very naturally.
Murvanidze: For me it was better to know her, because what she needs from me and what she wants [helps] to find the result.
Urushadze: And it happened so naturally there was no other way. She appeared like that after our investigation process. We stayed with it.
How long was the process from the time that you first started working on the film?
Urushadze: Oh, the process — we were really lucky because the process was very short. We started shooting in winter. In December.
Murvanidze: It was a month or something, 33 days?
Urushadze: It was 34 days.
Murvanidze: One day was without me.
Urushadze: That is why it was 33.
I don’t think it feels like a low-budget work pieced together with that sort of haste.
Urushadze: We were so short in time, and money, in budget and in time. It made us more concentrated on the actual shooting so it helped us.
Scary Mother is going on to play at Sarajevo Film Festival after this, which seems to be a good sign. It does seem like there is a lot of interest in this film, and I wanted to know if you thought this sort of curiosity could transpose itself onto Georgia cinema more broadly? Nata, you said something earlier about there not being too many films in Georgia that you have been this interested in?
Murvanidze: I am 47 and I have been in movies from 22. So that’s 25 years where I’ve read too many scripts that aren’t so interesting. I meant that it is unusual that you have very good script. It is not a usual situation in Georgia.
Urushadze: In Georgia, though, what I like is that it is progressive. It is not regressive. The thing is, the process of progressing is a little bit slow, but we have to make it — we have to take over and accelerate that process; to look at the situation as a positive.
I came at the film as someone relatively unfamiliar with Georgian cinema, but I saw Rusudan Glurjidze’s House of Others a few months ago, and I’ve really enjoyed both of these films.
Urushadze: We have many talented people, and what is more important is how active people are. Everyone is doing something. Everyone is in the process of doing something, in the process of writing or in the process of preparing for shooting. We have this motivation. I like it that we have it here.
How do you hope the work is received? With audiences outside of Georgia, do you hope particular elements of the film tied to the country carry over?
Urushadze: I watched the film with the audience for the first time yesterday. You become quite conscious. You expect a laugh, but no one laughs — and you are like, oh my god, what is wrong? Why did no one laugh? When you are watching a film with the audience, you are interested in their reactions. The most simple way to understand that people react the same as you is when you hear laughter in the right place. But it isn’t a bad thing when they don’t laugh for me. For the first time it was like, is this a bad sign? You know you don’t catch faces of the people of the audience, you hear them. What you hear is laughter, other emotions are harder to recognise. No one cries that loudly.
I guess you end up with a range of reactions from the crowd. I imagine it’s a stressful position to be in throughout the premiere, trying to measure it and all.
Urushadze: It is very interesting, we are grateful that people are interested in watching the film.
I really enjoyed it and I hope it has quite a long way to go ahead of it. Thanks so much.