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Is Culture Minister Taking Over the Film Center?

What happened?

A funding cut, structural reorganizations, and a series of dismissals followed the firing of the Georgian National Film Center (GNFC) director Gaga Ckhheidze on March 18, 2022. Some employees see this as a politically motivated vendetta by the Minister of Culture, Tea Tsulukiani.

Why is this important?

Tsulukiani is the longest-serving Minister under the Georgian Dream government. During her tenure as the Minister of Justice and as the Minister of Culture since May 2021 she has left behind a trail of arbitrary dismissals of professional civil servants and a track record of their replacement by party loyalists. Many of them went to court and according to Transparency International Georgia’s February 2022 data, during her tenure as Minister of Justice, the budget lost GEL 332,172 due to “illegal dismissals” of employees. After similar developments at the Georgian National Museum and the Book Center, GNFC is the latest victim of the practices.

What served as a trigger?

An open letter from GNFC employees about threats to its independence appears to have triggered the reprisals.

  • On March 18, 2022 Gaga Chkeidze, the current head of the Tbilisi Film Festival, was dismissed from his former position as the director of the GNFC. On May 31, 2023, the Goethe Institute published an article suggesting that Chkeidze’s dismissal from the GNFC was due to his support for Ukraine.
  • The Ministry – through GNFC – said these accusations were “false and totally unacceptable” and said it would cut funding to the Tbilisi Film Festival.
  • On June 5, the employees of the cinema center published an open letter expressing their concerns over the Center’s independence. This letter was later deleted from their website.

What is going on now?

The Minister of Culture appointed Koba Khubunaia, as the acting director and financial manager of GNFC.

  • Khubunaia has no connections with the film industry or arts. He worked as deputy head of the National Agency for Crime Prevention, Non-Custodial Sentences and Probation under Tsulukiani at the Ministry of Justice.
  • Following the appointment, Khubunaia the “reorganization” of the GNFC – a formula used to circumvent the job protection offered by law to civil servants, since it allows for elimination of their positions from the post table.
  • As part of the reorganization, deputy directors Mako Chilashvili and Nino Kukhalashvili were dismissed, effective July 12. The decision to eliminate these positions was done through an amendment to the post table, approved by Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani.
  • Khubunaia appointed Bacho Odisharia, the TV presenter of the anti-Western propaganda channel PosTV as the deputy head of movie production department.

What has GNFC’s track record been?

The GNFC has been credited with the recent successes of Georgian cinema, as it provides financial support to Georgian film production, promotes Georgian cinema worldwide, and preserves the heritage of Georgian films. The Center also conducts educational projects to promote film education and organizes competitions and events related to cinema. In particular, it funds 11 international film festivals held annually in Georgia.

The “reorganization” of the GNFC under the party loyalty lines, with new managers lacking familiarity with the subject area is likely to harm the Center’s past work and subordinate it to the partisan interests of the ruling party, hindering its ability to operate independently towards the fulfillment of its mandated mission.

What now?

GNFC employees are demanding a halt of the reorganization process pending the selection of the new Director through a fair, transparent, and competitive process, by a panel of film industry professionals. They have tried in vain to meet with the newly appointed director in recent days.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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