Cinema House, Tbilisi
© Illustration by Peichi Wu

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As a child I watched films at home or at a neighbour’s house, if they had a generator. So you could ask them if you could watch the 9pm film on the cinema channel. It was the most random selection: sometimes it would be a Georgian film and sometimes it would be Rambo. Even now, I try not to put things in separate boxes. It clearly comes from these childhood experiences, because accidentally I would watch parts of a Tarkovsky film and think it’s mesmerising, but the next week we would watch Terminator, and I would be equally fascinated.

My earliest memory of being in a cinema is when I was 17. I went to the Cinema House, this old Soviet cinema that had at that point a really shabby interior. It smelled awful and the screen was not really in good condition. But what was great about it is that you could buy a ticket for 30 cents, maybe. It was super cheap, and there was no popcorn, nothing.

Ryu Chishu and Hara Setsuko in Tokyo Story (1953)

You could skip class and just watch: Pasolini, Ozu or Antonioni, from morning until late at night. The most important part was the projectionist Sergey, who was a huge cinema fanatic, and he chose the programme. I don’t know how he made the selection because, simultaneously, he would have a retrospective of Pedro Almodóvar, for example, and then screen documentaries about Nirvana or Led Zeppelin so all the goths and rock fans would come in. There was a really eclectic audience.

Sergey could hear if somebody was talking during the screening, and if that happened he would stop the film. He would come out, just to yell at us, and then restart the film. He demanded this almost sacred relationship with cinema. If you were late, they would never let you in.

After maybe six, seven months of going to the cinema, I understood that you needed to become Sergey’s friend, so you could go through his catalogue and choose the films and somehow convince him to do the retrospective of one particular director.

I watched an Ozu film and I was so fascinated, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know anything about Japanese cinema. So I went to Sergey with a request to show more Japanese films, and he showed Teshigahara Hiroshi’s The Face of Another [1966]. I didn’t even know the Japanese New Wave existed. So Sergey put together a catalogue of Japanese films and said, “Nobody asks for it. But I’ll be showing them from time to time and you’ll know when I’m showing them so you can always come and watch.”

Rome, Open City (1945)

I watched maybe hundreds of films there. I could watch maybe five films a day. Sometimes you would wander in, not knowing anything about a film, but you didn’t have anywhere else to go. In summer, when it’s really hot in Tbilisi, we just tried to stay inside, and especially in this cinema, because they had really good air-conditioning. I watched Rome, Open City [1945] this way. I just did not want to be outside, and I discovered this film, which I consider one of the most important films I’ve ever seen. We were really lucky to have this cinema, and at that point, we didn’t realise what it was.

Sergey opened a door into a whole new world for me. The cinema is currently being renovated and I hear Sergey wants to go back to work after the renovation. But he always projected film and now they will have a digital projector. It’s so sad, because Sergey is probably the last person in Georgia who knows how to do it properly. And he’s a great projectionist.

  • Dea Kulumbegashvili was talking to Pamela Hutchinson

Further reading

Małgorzata Szumowska on American movies and communist Krakow

By Malgorzata Szumowska

Małgorzata Szumowska on American movies and communist Krakow

“What happens after the film is as important as what happens during the film”: Cristi Puiu on cinema culture past, present and future

By Cristi Puiu

“What happens after the film is as important as what happens during the film”: Cristi Puiu on cinema culture past, present and future

Mark Cousins on Sarajevo’s Obala cinema and watching films in a war zone

By Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins on Sarajevo’s Obala cinema and watching films in a war zone