Director: Sophio Medoidze
Sophio Medoidze does not think of Let Us Flow as a documentary but as a poem to the remote Tusheti region of North-east Georgia where she spent her childhood summers. The mountains here are so high they are inaccessible for half the year. When in 1954 the Tush people saw their first aeroplane flying towards them they thought it was a dragon. Medoidze shot Let us Flow over two years using minimal camera equipment – not even a tripod – so that she could move unobtrustively, capturing something of the centuries-old traditions of the Tush people. It’s a way of life which has become endangered. There were few telephones when the rest of the world was connected. But the recent arrival of wi-fi inevitably spells the invasion of western culture.
The film follows people gathering for an important annual celebration. Part of this consists of hair-raising horse races in which young men compete, hurling bareback through the rough hillside. A sequence shot with a headband camera gives a thrilling experience of the sheer speed and recklessness of the riders who before the race confidently stand on their horses.
But there is something even stranger going on. Some sort of ancient religious ritual is being playing out. It’s here that we could do with just a bit of voice-over explaining what’s going on. But we have to appreciate Medoidze’s purist directorial principles, observing but refusing to editorialise. Men go through a nighttime ritual where they have to plunge, one by one, into a fast-flowing mountain stream, immersing themselves fully and uttering a blessing while dressed only in underpants. We imagine it’s a cleansing ritual, although its undertaken with a lot of cheerful joshing. In fact Medoidze stresses the playfulness of many of Tusheti celebrations. Even the crudely made wooden bats the men call their swords are used only for gentle taps on one another’s backs.
The women have their own comic ritual. A few are chosen to hide from the men. To put them off, these women aim to look as unappealing as possible, drawing crude make up and moustaches on themselves and dressing in weird assortments of clothes. A successful woman may outwit the men for up to twelve hours, we’re told.
At the centre of it all, there is an important visit to a shrine. It’s a modest, seemingly ruined place which is nonetheless accorded great spiritual status. Importantly it’s a strictly male-only space, a homemade sign reading ‘No Woman’. It is here that a banner is raised and a number of sheep are brought which will be blessed and then sacrificed. With their great curling horns, they conjure up the story of Abraham and Isaac. Small bells are rung, the men calling out “Bless you! Bless you!” Medoidze tactfully turns the camera away for the killings but show us a low wall where blood has been daubed – another quasi-biblical image.
But Medoidze maintains the strangeness by eschewing a sound track of traditional Georgian music, opting instead for strange, effective original music by fellow Georgian, Reso Kiknadze.
Back in lowland villages and towns, the Tusheti are traditional Greek Orthodox. But up in the mountains it’s an older, stranger, syncretic religion whose rites and rituals they perform. This land was once ancient Colchis where Jason and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece. In the Q&A which followed the screening at the 2023 Georgian Black Sea Film Festival, Medoidze, asked about the significance of the rituals, suggested they keep the Tusheti, a people in flux, “together on the road.”
We are left with the striking image of the locals outdoors, contentedly watching sections of Medoidze’s film projected onto a sheet while the night sky glitters with stars.
Let it Flow is screening as part of the London Georgian Film Festival 2023.