Is it possible to hold on to your dignity in the face of ultimate human struggle? Cold, hungry, and humiliated illegal Georgina immigrants from the former Soviet Union fight for their survival on the streets of Brooklyn, New York.
Levan Koguashvili received his B.F.A. from the Russian State Institute of Film (VGIK) and is now an M.F.A. candidate at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He has written and directed several award-winning short films and documentaries that have screened at film festivals in France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. Koguashvili is currently working on a script of his debut feature film.
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What inspired you to make this piece?
I was inspired by the drama and cinematic qualities of day laborers' lives: 15 to 20 unshaved men, hanging around the streets of the alien city, in a freezing cold, smoking, drinking coffee, waiting for a day job, and then running to the car of the possible employer and arguing with him for every dime.
For me it's tragedy and comedy at the same time. It is life. It is a movie. Besides, these men were coming from my country and it was personal too. I felt sorry for them and wanted to help them somehow by making a short film about hope.
Briefly tell us about how you made your film or video: what camera and format did you use to shoot your piece, and what system did you use to edit it? What is your working process? Did you use any special techniques to make this work?
The entire film was shot on the digital still photo camera. We used the "movie" feature of the Canon PowerShot G5 digital photo camera. I had a Apple laptop on the set where I downloaded the Flash cards. I edited everything using Final Cut Pro.
Do you have any interesting behind-the-scenes stories about the making of this particular work?
THE DEBT was my second-year film for NYU graduate film school. Initially I started to shoot it on film using the school equipment. But they give you equipment only for five days, and I couldn't finish the film within that time. And I didn't have money to rent the equipment and buy food for the large crew. So I was desperate and lost. I thought that it was the end of my filmmaking career. And then my Director of Photography, Kirill Mikhanosvky, came up with the weird idea to shoot everything on this tiny digital photo camera which we use for our location scouting. He said that we are lost anyway and we aren't risking anything. He said, "At least it's gonna look like an experiment." I was thinking about it for one day and then agreed.
When we showed up on the set with this tiny camera, the actors (nonprofessional guys from Brighton Beach) thought that we were joking. But we were serious. Everything turned out very well. The film went to several big film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and Mannheim, and won several awards.
And now at NYU professors are showing it to the first-year students as an example of a creative approach, that it's not about money and expensive equipment, but story and spirit.
What is the relationship between your work as a video/filmmaker and life in the New York metropolitan area?
New York is a great inspiration. I think that it's one of the most cinematic places in the world. But I don't like Manhattan (shootingwise), I prefer remote parts of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx. Real places. Places with spirit.
What films/videos and makers have inspired or influenced your work and why?
Ioseliani, Fellini, Cassavetes, Scorsese (MEAN STREETS), German, Olmi.
If viewers are interested in obtaining copies of your work for rental and purchase, whom should they contact and at what address and phone number?