Olga Babluani - Creative Media Entrepreneur Outside the Box


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Nowadays, Georgian commercial media space lacks educational, creative shows and content, what first of all due to low rating of such media products, and accordingly, lack of financial interest. However, regardless this fact, Georgian audience is familiar with projects, that managed to gain popularity with educational, interesting programs and independently produce content for a long time.

Entrepreneur has interviewed the author of such project, professional with innovative handwriting, who managed to introduce a completely different standard to the Georgian television space of the 21st century.

"I was born in Mtatsminda, in "Italian courtyard". The concept of the TV show "A Farewell to Arms" was based on this courtyard, where Russian, Armenian, Kurd, Georgian and many other ethnic groups cohabitated in Tbilisi environment. I was 10 years old, when we moved to Didube district, the real-time Soviet industrial settlement. However, I was brought up in the family of anti-Soviet citizen and film director, where friendship and love took the first place. I grow up surrounded by books, cinema and imaginary characters, somewhere in parallel universe. Literature allowed me to familiarize with this world: what's how my first connection with the reality was established. And, I think this is one of the reasons why I started to love live and then human beings, with their strengths and weaknesses. Even today, this is how I see and perceive people, as characters, with their individual live stories. With such attitude it is impossible to feel hate, and childish curiosity never fades away! I believe that knowledge can save human beings, make them more humane, teach them positive thinking, open different horizons, and personal opportunities, especially in this age of "Tech", when we are observing the marathon of performance, and individuals are represented with their self-presentation", − Olga notes.

"A Farewell to Arms" and "No Time to Sleep" are two distinguished and audience favorite projects by Olga, through which the Georgian audience has received not only aesthetic pleasure, but also cognitive and cultural information.

It is noteworthy, that the famous Babluani family of Georgian cinematographers has successfully established itself in the European film industry as well. The "Golden Lion", two award of the "Saint-Denis" film festival, the title of the best European film and many other recognitions are just the beginning of the Babluans' European success. Filmography of Olga Babluani calls for attention as well: "13 (Tzameti)" (Venice film festival "Golden Lion" winner; Sant-Denis film festival winner); "Legacy" (Saint-Denis film festival, main prize winner); "Keep Smiling"- French-Georgian coproduction (Venice Film Festival); "Braquo" - canal+ production, popular TV series in France (Emmy Awards); "The Army of Crime" - French director, Robert Guediguian movie, France; "L'entante Cordiale" - Vincent De Brus commercial movie (France), and Rezo Gigineishvili movie - "Love with Accent".

As Olga notes, she believes in friendship, at the level of feeling the existence of God, the miraculous power of love, children, continuous study, and work. She also believes that no one can save us from ourselves, the unlimited resources are inside us and all interesting begins from us. She feels that there is no such thing as losing, and after 20 years of continuous professional path, reassessing past, and future processes, she is still writing and working on a new project. She is the initiator, moderator, and organizer of two cognitive discussions, namely - "Promotion of professional education" (Writers' House) and "Importance of Education and Art" (Museum of Art).

Entrepreneur offers you interview with an actor, journalist, producer, host and most importantly media entrepreneur, Olga Babluani:

Please tell us about your first TV project "A Farewell to Arms", which introduced a completely different concept format in the Georgian television space. What was the main idea and purpose of the program?

People from different social spheres and professions met in one space, in a homelike studio.

One, let's say the most important guest, was the person, who influenced the society with his/her social status, and the rest of the guests were mostly unknown to the audience, or less known faces, not representing media professions. Me, as the presenter, accepted the main guest at the first stage, we played backgammon, I asked questions to get to know the person in a spontaneous conversation mode, which was followed by a self-paced narrative. Other guests were given opportunity to talk about social importance of their professions, interests and exchange opinions on freedom, duties of the young generation, migration, arts and many others. The format allowed respondents to introduce each other. My big advantage as the author and head of the project was not knowing the local everyday life, not knowing people - creative spontaneity was necessary for this format.

We would also create some games. For example, we would shoot at a target, chose philosophical sayings, questions, Max Frisch's questionnaire was also much fun. For instance, one of the questions was: what makes us stateless? The viewers also thinks about what makes them stateless in this post-colonial occupation, do not they?

This mode of spontaneous conversation and unusual experimental format for the Georgian media, apart from informing the audience about the issue from a diverse perspective, also contained a certain risk for you as the author and presenter. How ready do you think the guest and the audience were to engage in this type of free dialogue?
All respondents agreed to participate gladly as they heard of the idea of this show. Regarding the risks, they are precondition for personal transformation against spiritual stagnation. I understand and believe in reasonable risks. This was a significant professional stage for me. In regards with the content - in contrary, the very positive vibe. Image, random, ordinary people representing different professions gathering in one studio. For example: engineer, firefighter, prime-minister, painter, representative of diplomatic corps, musicians, and others sharing their individual views. This was the image of democratic society environment, that I want to see in Georgia united, well-built society, where under well-developed legislation citizens live with long-term perspectives. This is only imaginary, illusionary planning. People opposing to one another were our guests in one space. A television project of this content cannot be implemented in the current political situation.

We did anticipate little discomfort as there was a probability, that audience would accuse me of political biases, when certain politician or the main guest was not acceptable to a certain part of the society. We did have several cases. Of course, this was not a hindering factor for me, since the main goal was for the program to fulfill its role in terms of content. To this day, eight years later, video-records of some of the programs are still circulating. People share the videos in the context of their choice.

We were often asked about the music, and it belongs to Beka Gochiashvili, the stage director was cinematographer Mindia Esadze, the executive producer was Lana Kutateladze, and the casting manager was Leli Mininoshvili.

Apart from my family, the project was supported by "Silk Road Group". The role of this group is special in terms of initiating very high quality and necessary cultural/cognitive projects in the country.

You have mentioned politics. How much influence do you think this polarized environment has on our daily lives?

Almost all-important spheres are political and polarized. And media is one of the distinguished examples of this reality. The best weapons for political wars today are televisions. And 80% of the population receives information from traditional means of television. Main topics remain beyond the population access. The war in Ukraine has shown us that there is a fair axis of values, the moral order of the world is being rearranged. And what historical page are we on at this time in the centuries-old history of Georgia? What are we able to do when we are busy undermining each other. Is there an issue of common national interest around which we all unite? Western values of "Home Europe" are based on the common interests, mutual respect and equality. This is the wester "home", we are rushing to.

"No Time to Sleep" another successful project. What was the idea of the project and how do you think, from today's perspective, when the show has already exhausted itself in the television space, how exactly did the idea that you had at the beginning come to fruition?
Nothing is ever executed with 100% accuracy, but judging based on the interest expressed by the audience, outcomes were delighting. For 5 years the program has had a decent position. This show was a novelty as well: educational format, like a "journal" where with pleasant attitude information, pleasure and education was provided. The studio design with renewed interior matched the program concept: "loft" type apartment, three different locations, and combination of all this created a conceptual balance.

To make the program appear fresh and new, we tried to invite unknown people, who were left behind media - "No Time to Sleep!" - what is being done in the country. The audience was provided with progress-oriented information, what gave them a glimpse of hope for the future. "Besides being brave, pretending to be happy has one cheeky plus: it encourages imitation." We can use this pure truth as a slogan for the show.

Thematic diversity - each word had to match the interests of the audience, whether commercial or any other. For example, lawyers talked about their occupation, and also about legal means of solving family disputes. This way audience learned about where and how to access free service. For cultural relaxation, I recorded an exclusive interview with the French actor Vincent Cassel in the same show, we kept the program dynamic with popular music: idea of the pension fund, ecological issues, singer Keti Melua, presidential elections, prevention of violence, Young European Ambassadors, documentary film and sexuality education... Georgian audience had a chance to listen to hundreds of knowledgeable people and specialists.

The idea is expressed in the form. To assess current days the term "Expedited Time" is used. This is a relevant technical term. In reality there is no time, this is something we have invented, we are the ones rushing our lives. This is a separate topic… so if we go back to the program, today in this time mode, you have to deliver your message to the audience with quality. You need to combine well needed, interesting and small show together, this attracts attention. For instance, distinguished Gela Charkviani explained propaganda risks with athletes in the studio; listening to Levan Berdzenishvili lectures is source of great knowledge, but television is not an educational institution, so Mr. Berdzenishvili gave a short and interesting answer to the question of how we love Georgia, in the light of the high values of Avtandil and Tariel. Levan Gigineishvili spoke with the leader of the Catholic Church about the religious/historical meaning of Epiphany. And so on.

Before "Imedi" television company made a show to happen, I had a conversation with other commercial TV broadcasters and despite the difficulties, working with "Imedi" TV turned out to be the most acceptable. The media environment was totally different. At the end of 2016, there was a merger of commercial TV broadcasters, the establishment of a new holding (GDS, "Maestro", "Imedi"), which sounded interesting, but was completely unclear to me. We launched "No Time to Sleep" on "Maestro", and 6 months later we moved to high rating channel "Imedi". We worked on outsourcing. This was an amazing, creative period. Busy working schedule, pleasant and working environment. And most importantly the team composed of talented and strong professional females was established. Internal environment was felt from the tv screens as well.

When on the weekly basis, thousands of people are waiting for you - this is a greatest pleasure filled with enormous sense of responsibility. As soon as camera is on, everything moves to the stage environment. I feel love from the people everywhere. Every day I meet people, they write to me and ask me why the show is no longer aired. I am honestly glad to hear all this, as it means that I have worked in the correct direction.

Everything that has a beginning has an ending. And admitting this fact has bothered me since my childhood. "No Time to Sleep" has exhausted its creative resources as well. I needed to have some rest; this was inevitable. "Never say never!"- today I have no interest in television. I was more enthusiastic to creative media capabilities in Georgia, but lack of commercial market, paired with the political situation, sets its own agenda.

In general, everything is taken seriously: jokes, flirting, spontaneous relationships... everything is followed by a big "magnifying glass", which in many cases is absolutely useless.

I was truly lucky. I am grateful to Zura Nakeuri, Goga Kalandarishvili, Maka Lomidze and "Imedi" management in general, for the daily support they have provided to our team.

Many partners and international organizations generously supported us.

How difficult is it to be a writer, producer, and presenter of creative shows at the same time? How do you distribute these roles in yourself?
This is quite a time-consuming work. There is no room for sentiments and compromises. Project management is based on the correct relationship balance. You are ready for any challenge. The most important thing is to have a strategic vision of what your work serves to. Selecting valuable people is very important. All professional links have their own workload and require separate work with each of them. Without human characteristics and mutual understanding, you cannot establish healthy environment. I can only recall two cases when the employee did not meet the expectations. Keti Urotadze, Lika Babluani, Tako Kvelidze are real friends and professionals, and we have overcome all the difficult stages together. Mainly it was women team, and regardless of busy working schedule each woman delivered a baby every year. By noting this I want to highlight the great productivity potential of women.

You have successfully handled many different activities. Was this success supported by the fact that your professional biography began with actress career in France? What does this part of your biography mean to you?

Screen is a type of stage, part of the show. In Georgia, nowadays, the largest "stage" in terms of visibility is television.

Being a presenter involves different working process - regardless the fact that I do not perform, I lead the discussions. Acting education was important to me, to legitimate my artistic character. I studied at a famous Ecole Florent theatre and drama institution. During this period, I clearly understood that profession of an actress was not my only passion, I did not like performing at the theatre. I have to be involved in creative process myself. If I were engaged only as an actress, then I would by drowning in boredom. During the school period I was passionate about French media, which had major creative and esthetic impact on me. I participated in media trainings. During the same period, my brother, Gela Babluani has established a production - "La Strada", created a movie "13 Tsameti" and I played my role in it. It was a very happy and important moment, both professionally and personally. New stage has begun in my family's filmography. "13 Tsameti" is the only film of the Georgian director whose remake was created in the USA with Hollywood movie stars. In addition to the author's film recognition, the film was revived in commercial terms.

You have mentioned France… In general, what role do you think French culture plays in the process of formation of your personality?

Let me quote one French text: "the second person, beyond "other" you, is a miracle. It is a miracle, and that is why we must not allow that 'other', the other human miracle, to be lost. But how can you be with someone else if you haven't heard something in your own person yet... if you cannot understand yourself, how can you understand others?... You have sympathy to another person in regards with what you respect about yourself. This means real sympathy, and not the sympathy based on the social relationships. In another person you love something that at least defines your love to this person. And if you know nothing about yourself, if you do not understand yourself, then you will be hesitant and unprotected, and will use every person in order to create "Me", and will never understand other person's miracle, accordingly, you will not get to know yourself"- this is France. The scale of freedom, which allows you to believe in your immortality.

Are you planning to act in the movies in the future? Is there a role you would like to play?

I don't consider it as a priority, although there is a chance, and it depends on the role. And in a modern comedy, I would definitely play an independent woman completely focused on herself... While in modern Georgia movies, in 99% cases, these are the social faces of women caught up in severe cultural/mental barriers.

Of course, this has its own explanation: poverty, catastrophic indicators of education quality, and devaluation of values. Finance oriented lack of creativity… while art is the free space, as freedom is the precondition for progress. Movies can impact changes.

Despite the Soviet censorship, in our film heritage, women are much more chainless, independent, and socially integrated, there are sentiments saturated in romanticism, but from a creative point of view, the level of films is very high.

I really liked Soso Bliadze's film. Despite the difficult social background, the girls are characters giving hope to their generation. Without using a didactive tone, the film clearly shows that these people will always find the way out in the modern world. There is this radical mental separation from the past, influence of soviet school teaching, and festival "subject".

What would you advise young people?

The environment around us changes every day, our views change, and we change too. I could advise them one thing: Take care of your time - it's the only thing that really belongs to us. Think carefully about with whom and what purposes you spend it for!

არჩილ გელაშვილი

Entrepreneur Staff

ჟურნალისტი, Entrepreneur Georgia


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