by Sherif Awad
A Georgian rising actress presented her film about arranged marriage during Aswan Festival.
Among the ten films screened in the long film competition of the 2nd Aswan International Women Film Festival (AIWFF) last February, was the Georgian drama Dede starring actress Natia Vibliani who came to Egypt for the first time to present her acting debut.
The importance of Dede (which in the Svanish dialect means “mum”) lies in its dramatization of the subject of arranged marriages, a critical issue we are still encountering in some Egyptian and African villages. The central character is Dina played by Natia who is a young woman whose whole life is dictated by the traditions of her Georgian Svaneti village. The film opens in the year 1992 where Dina’s grandfather is preparing for her wedding to another villager with whom she was engaged since their birthdays. But when the handsome young man Gegi returns from war, Dina feels that this is the man she wants as a husband. And so, against the wills of their two families, Dina and Gegi decide to get married. Four years later, we find Dina, who became estranged from her family, is living happily with her husband Gegi and their newborn son in the husband’s not so far village. However, one day, in a hunting accident, Gegi is killed and again Dina finds herself obliged to her Svaneti traditions: as a widow, she must marry the first man who asks for her hand and also she also must giveaway her only on to her in-laws.
Mariam Khatchvani, the Georgian writer-director of Dedewas a native of Ushguli, Svanati, hence her knowledge of the traditions of this remote Georgian villages. The story of Dede is based upon the life of grandmother who lived in this community and spoke Svanish, a Georgian dialect, practiced by only 15,000 people. When Mariam was a little girl, her grandmother told her how her mother got married and how she was chased after her with bare feet by men seeking her; for Miriam, it was hard to perceive this story that put her in tears along with her grandmother. When Mariam became a filmmaker, Dede became her protest against the traditions that prohibited women and even men from having the rights to make their own choices. “When she casting the film, Mariam was seeking non-professional actors and actresses to give credibility to the characters”, explained Natia who was contacted by Mariam through her Facebook profile two years ago when casting began. “Although I live in the Capital Tbilisi, I was born in Svanati and I speak the Svanish dialect. After meeting me, Mariam was sure I can portray the role of Dina during her different periods: a young woman, a wife then a sad widow”.
It took Mariam, Natia and the rest of the cast and the crew one year of shooting to finish the principal photography of Dede. Not only because the story spans many years and takes place between summers and winters on the Caucasian mountains but also because shooting was across harsh terrain without any infrastructure with part of the cast got arrested by corrupt police and jailed for six months. “The challenge for me was to live a long time across the mountains, in this primitive setting. But my knowledge of the language and traditions in addition my skills in horse riding helped to reflect the different aspects of my character Dina”, explained Natia who did all her scenes in horse racing and mountain climbing without any stunt double.
Before Aswan International Women Film Festival (AIWFF), Dedepremiered last July during the 52nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) among the films of the East of the West competition, a section dedicated to from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. “I decided to come to Aswan to present Dede in its Egyptian premiere, but I missed the Georgian premiere that took place yesterday in Tbilisi the day I arrived in Aswan”, laughed Natia. “I don’t regret it because I am happy how the attendees of Aswan Festival reacted to the story and my performance. Also, Mariam, who was worried about the reception of Georgian people, wrote me that they liked the film”, she added.
The twenty-one years-old Natia is still finishing her university studies majoring in law while having a side job as a security officer in Tbilisi airport. “I have three brothers who are still living in our village outside of the capital Tbilisi. Sometimes, I don’t see them for six months or a year. Dede shows how life is different between the village and the city in Georgia. Sometimes it is not easy to adapt to a new life. As for me, I haven’t made up my mind about venturing into acting. I will wait to see what the wind brings”.