By Steffon Olsen
Nino Shonia’s enigmatic, animated spirit and subtle charm originate from her childhood in Tsalenjikha. Located in the beautiful region of Smegrelo, Georgia, it’s a place where traditions are held sacred. Since childhood, amidst the wine-drenched social landscape of a small town, Nino viewed the world through a rare lens of poignant truth and innocence growing up under the rule of a communist government (Soviet Union at the time). Nino’s love of books transported her to other worlds and inspired her appreciation for the intrinsic values of the human existence. “The word freedom, as I remember it, was completely out of use. I mean human freedom, freedom of choice, not the freedom of the country from the Soviet Union,” says Nino.
Nino’s love of visual art and the cinema began at the age of 8-years old. “My mother was working as a cashier in the only movie theater in town. It didn’t matter what the weather was like, what the movie was about, whether it was a Soviet movie or a foreign one; every day, after school, I would quickly finish my homework, have lunch, and visit the cinema in the evenings. I cannot say that I realized, at that time, that I would eventually tell stories in this medium someday,” says Nino.
After entering the university in the Faculty of Journalism at Ivane Javakhishvili State University, Nino began a prolific career working in newspapers, magazines, and TV Channels including: Georgian Central TV, Investigative journalists Network – “iFact”, Playboy magazine, and radio stations (as a DJ and organizer of various concerts. “I always helped new musicians and well-known groups to record albums, arrange shows, and find necessary funds. That is why my house was a gathering place for musicians, writers, theater directors, and other artists.” Says Nino.
As a journalist in her twenties, Nino realized her gift to tell stories, visually. “I began to notice that every story I wrote was extremely saturated with the aesthetics of framing. I always wanted there to be more visualization in it. Everyone knew that my master’s final work (Journalism and Media management) would be film. Finally, completely alone, loaded with equipment and without funds, I went to Berlin and made my first documentary about Georgians in Berlin, “Migrant Birds,” (2005) says Nino. Eventually, she went on to produce four more documentary films including: “Selling Surrogates: wombs for hire in Georgia,” “At the Edge”, Chabukiani”, and “Opposites Can Attract.”
At age 35, Nino became pregnant with a daughter. “Nicole’s birth changed me completely. Along with the joy, I was afraid that I was no longer free and that I had to find a permanent job with a solid salary,” Nino says. This time in her life was followed by 9-years of arduous, uninspired work in state agencies, in various Ministries until one night, during one of her cigarette breaks, Nino was reminded of her destiny. “I live in an Italian courtyard, where there is a common corridor. We gather there as neighbors and friends to share thoughts. My neighbor, Maiko, told me about the newly established Georgian-American Film Academy. She asked me a simple question, “What do you expect? Why are you not doing what you want most?” Suddenly, at that very moment, I decided not to compromise my desires and dreams any further. I would do only what I want with all my being. That’s how I got into the new academy. My dream was to make movies professionally, however, my daily work had kept me from fulfilling this dream. Although I was quite successful in my field, it was still not what I wanted for my life. I decided that I would never betray myself again. I’ve helped others to achieve their goals and now it’s time to do only what I love and “Lile,” was my first baby,” Says Nino.
Nino Shonia’s film “Lile,” won Best Short Film, Best Director of a Short Film, Best Actress of a Short Film, and Best Score of a Short Film, at Scorpiusfest 2023. Recently I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing Nino Shonia.
Her unassuming, light-hearted nature would disarm you at first glance, from a distance. However, once you actually approach the petite-figured, golden haired Georgian from Tbilisi and engage her in conversation, her undeniably perceptive and sagacious presence is powerful.
Scorpius: What do you love most about your life in Georgia?
Nino Shonia: Georgia itself. Maybe that’s why I can’t leave. I love the people with their weaknesses but with extremely warm hearts that cover all kinds of mistakes. Sometimes it seems like we don’t succeed in solving our problems. Sometimes we are even enemies of our own country, and sometimes, after small successes, we take a few steps back and keep making the same mistakes. It’s sad, but I love the fact that since the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia war, a large number of citizens of a country that has been our greatest enemy, entered into our country and caused the Georgian nation to think. Almost one million Russian refugees entered the small Georgian nation, a population of just under 4 million. Russians escaped to a country of which 20% is already occupied by Russia. Despite this fact, Georgians’ haven’t turned their backs on their guests, nor closed their doors to the needy and lost. That’s why I love my people. Knowing Russia will use it against us, maybe it’s a big mistake. However, I love my kind-hearted people who still tolerate them and speak to them in Russian language to make life easier for those who are ashamed that they are Russians, who fled the war and were left homeless. It is a deeply rooted tradition of our country to elevate the guest to God. Georgia is the country of Vazha Pshavela, the greatest humanist poet, whose poem, “Guest-Host” develops the philosophy and theme of the guest’s inviolability. Its main character also ignores the blood-take-revenge tradition only because the murderer of many brothers in his village appears as an unexpected guest in his house but that day he is a “Guest” and not an enemy. He can’t kill the guest in his own home. It is a matter of his dignity and because of this, he also confronts the village.
My country has many such stories and even in everyday life, when I go outside, I come across interesting stories that could easily become the plot of a movie.
Scorpius: What were the three largest obstacles you were faced with when filming “Lile”?
Nino Shonia: I can’t recall many obstacles. Shooting “Lile” was more of a utopia. Every film begins with an idea and I had only this idea. No budget and no people to implement a budget. I had this dream and a great desire to make my first film and this great desire created opportunities as soon as I took action. Time was crucial, however, if I had more time from the moment I finished the script to the beginning of shooting, even one month, I would probably have sought financing. I had to shoot the film within the framework of the Georgian-American Academy which included a deadline so I didn’t complain about the lack of funding and we started shooting directly. The academy provided us with the latest equipment for filming, free of charge. I also had friends who invested a lot of energy in helping to make my dream a reality. We didn’t have a lot of resources nor big or small details that usually make cinema such an expensive product. It was finally decided that I should shoot the film in 1 day with people who possessed no filmmaking experience but who had a friendship, heart, an incredible work ethic, dedication, and a great love for cinema. Certain elements in the film; a tractor, the evacuator, costumes, decorations, and people…just appeared. N1 in Georgia, professional make-up and hair artist, Madonna Chanturia helped us free of charge. The people of the wonderful village of “Brotseula” made us feel at home the day of shooting. When I spoke to a group of elderly women regarding playing a role in the film, at first they didn’t take me serious, however, after convincing the ladies with no acting experience, they played the role of “elderly gossiping neighbors,” and did a remarkable job.
The music track of “Lile” has a special meaning for me. I knew exactly what I wanted. However, I ran into some issues regarding the original music I had initially chosen and I had to completely destroy the shots I had built. However, after searching for an alternative solution through a sea of options on the internet, I finally found Kai Engel and Scott Buckley, who gave me the right to use their music in my film without cost, only on the condition that I credit them in the film.
Scorpius: If you were offered the opportunity and funding to film: “Lile” as a feature film, would you be interested?
Nino Shonia: I would want to rework the script for a feature and there would be a lot of preparatory work that would need to go into it. It would depend on the budget, locations, set design, costumes, and so forth. It would also depend on the crew I would work with, particularly the editor. In short, I would not do it hastily and I would certainly approach the new project with great ambition. Regarding “Lile,” the story has great potential to translate into a feature film. However, with a completely different dramatic approach and structure. I would use several layers in order to give it great dimensions; plot lines, subplots, and characters which intersect with turning points and an epic climax. If the offer was right, I would probably say yes. The story and the issues raised in the film are much deeper than the short film could cover. Every specific film creates its own rhythm and I think that “Lile” has found its rhythm. However, as a feature film it would still be different.
Scorpius: Do you see yourself casting Mariam Bitsadze in future projects?
Nino Shonia: Yes, and I see her finding big projects with other directors elsewhere as well. She’s suited for the cinema very well. She was born for a great future in cinema. She’s very beautiful, talented, and amazingly focused while working. Although Mariam is not an actress by profession, she understood Lile’s character exactly. She is a professional psychologist. She already saw Lile and understood her fate. As soon as the camera was on, she was becoming quiet, passive, and mysterious, just like Lile’s character would have been. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Lile.
Scorpius: What are some of the most vital issues facing female filmmakers in the industry at this moment?
Nino Shonia: We live in a male-dominated world and it is not easy to dismantle the patriarchal system because it has been formed over centuries. Gender inequality is particularly noticeable in the film industry. The dearth of female directors is so noticeable that festivals have separate nominations. It is perceived as an encouraging action for women. However, in my opinion, putting men and women in an unequal situation again, in a certain sense, highlighting and facilitating this gender inequality. Because that alone doesn’t change anything in the industry, where men and women have different payment and opportunities. Society puts a woman in an extreme situation where she has to manage both her career and family well. At the same time, she must look good, control weight, dress… Because together with the profession, society will definitely consider and evaluate her appearance. It is a very far-reaching topic and it is difficult to summarize it all in one question.
Scorpius: Have you ever considered writing a biographical screenplay of your life?
Nino Shonia: No, and I probably will never write it. Although I keep a diary, I don’t wish to discuss my life in such detail. I don’t have the ambition nor the ego for that and it’s not important to me at this time. It’s much more interesting for me to observe other people’s lives and tell their stories.
Scorpius: If today was the last day of your life what last words would you leave the world with?
Nino Shonia: “It was good, but I wanted more…”
Everything about Nino Shonia’s life as an independent artist/filmmaker and the way she fights for her dream embodies the spirit of Scorpiusfest’s mission.
Nino’s story is an inspiration to every true, organic artist and filmmaker in the world.
It is with honor that we feature Nino Shonia on the cover of this year’s Scorpius Magazine – Scorpiusfest 2023 Issue.
Visit Nino Shonia’s social media links: