Trees travel in Salomé Jashi’s Taming the Garden, a jaw-dropping record of sublime beauty and gutted community. The Georgian filmmaker chronicles the pharaonic transport of massive trees — excavated from the earth, hauled overland (and upright) inch by inch, then ferried on the Black Sea — at the behest of billionaire businessman and politician Bidzina Ivanishvili. But this is no simple story of eccentric whims; Jashi’s expansive, wide-angle views let us feel the visceral impact when towns and villages must give up 100-plus-year-old trees, like losing some part of their hearts.
„When I saw it in reality for the first time, even though I was anticipating it, I felt dizzy, I felt like vomiting, which was a really interesting feeling. It meant that something fundamental was off, was shaken up. So I felt this metaphor that you just explained physically in my body. I don’t think the screen can actually convey the magnitude and the dimensions of what we witnessed there and what the people witnessed. But I hope that this meaning of taking away something fundamental, like uprooting something fundamental inside ourselves, is conveyed in the film.“ (Salome Jashi)
Some time ago, the entire country of Georgia witnessed a surreal scene – a large tree floating in the sea. That was when we learned that the most powerful man in the country had a new passion – to own century-old trees on his private estate. Witnessing this image was like seeing a glitch in the real. It was as if I had seen something I should have never seen. It was beautiful, like real-life poetry, but at the same time it seemed to be a mistake, a kind of discomfort.
I embarked on filming this process as Georgia’s whole coastline was involved in implementing one man’s desire. I wanted to explore what was behind this mesmerizingly strange image; to tell about the ambition of a powerful man, who alters landscapes, moves trees, leaves witnesses perplexed – all for the sake of his pleasure.
I am fascinated by environments and how these environments affect people. More precisely, how we perceive others, and ourselves, in specific environments. The contradiction between settings and the people in them is what often drives my vision.
To me, the film does not have a one-dimensional line as to what it is about. The material spoke of many different aspects of life, which found symbolic expressions in the film, such as the idea of manhood, or forced migration, or uprooting, which is not just a physical process. I also relate the theme of uprooting to my country, where values and a sense of stability is constantly floating. I see the film as an evocative journey into a surreal world, which paradoxically is also fact-based.
We were filming for almost two years. I would travel with my small team to the coast each month to try to capture elements for the film. It was a challenging process as nothing was properly planned. We were dependent on the natural elements like wind, rain, unexpected circumstances in the workers’ routine, even the general political situation of the day. The process of transplanting trees was very slow and key elements would happen very fast. But the biggest
challenge was connected to the local inhabitants. Since the wealthy man behind the scenes is also the most politically powerful man in the country, they were often scared to even appear in front of the camera fearing possible consequences, the fear which we, like other fragile democracies, have in our blood.
– Salomé Jashi