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Barbican Chronic Youth Festival: A Room of My Own and Conversation with Programmers

Directed by Ioseb “Soso” Bliadze, A Room of My Own follows the story of Tina (Taki Mumladze) as she seeks a roommate in Tbilisi during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is timid and reserved, sharply contrasting the roommate she finds in Megi (Mariam Khundadze), who is the life of every party and extremely confident in herself. There is an initial tension between the women, eventually giving way to friendship and sexual liberation. Before the screening, Khundadze takes the stage to contextualise the film: shot during the pandemic with a limited five-person crew in Mumladze and Khundadze’s actual apartment, the film manages to achieve a tender quality, most present in the women’s political and sexual reconciliation, and their dreams and hopes for the future. When the film finishes, I sat down with Barbican Chronic Youth programmers Annabel and Antara to discuss A Room of My Own.

So you guys were helping put the festival together – did you help pick this film?

Ant: Yeah, I think Annabel was the main advocate for it.

Ann: Yeah, so if you are involved in the film programming there’s basically a website called Festival Scope and on the website there’s a lot of films that don’t have distribution yet but have appeared at festivals…and it’s really random! Some of them are really amazing quality and a lot of them I think spoke to us. So, this was, in a way, quite a surprising, and slightly random, choice. We just stumbled across it and watched it as a group and I think I was quite a big champion of it for a couple of different reasons. A: the fact that it doesn’t have any distribution, like you can’t watch the film anywhere else, and that was an important reason to programme it. Secondly… I think the last time the Barbican screened a film from Georgia it was in like 2017 or something, so years and years ago, and the Barbican have a new east strand on their programming anyway all about films from post-Soviet states. That was another reason why I was really keen to advocate for it. And also, I just think it’s a really beautiful film – it’s so naturalistic and so low-budget and just manages to tell a story in really… it’s like a simple story beautifully told.

So what do you guys think the crux of the film is – what is it about? If you were going to describe it to someone else, how would you do that?

Ant: I think as Mariam was saying at the beginning, a lot of it is about being a woman and finding your own way in the world and setting yourself up. I think through Tina’s journey we learn more and more about what she’s been through and kind of the implied sense of structure of her community and I really love how at the end she seems to come into herself a lot more.

Ann: I haven’t actually asked yet! But, I presume the title is a play on Virginia Woolf[‘s A Room of One’s Own] and I thought it was amazing that they actually took, in some ways…it’s quite traditional to think about womanhood in terms of space and the domestic but it felt so contemporary at the same time. It shows that those ideas of space and autonomy are very fresh still and haven’t gone away and obviously the Virginia Woolf essay is about having your own autonomy as an artist, but that autonomy needs to step beyond that as well just into daily life, and I like the fact that these were just two ordinary women.

Image Courtesy of Barbican Chronic Youth Festival

Who do you think this film is for?

Ann: We’re Chronic Youth festival, I think it appeals to a younger generation. We tried to reach out to the Georgian community in London as well since we’re showcasing and platforming a film from that country.

Ant: Yeah, especially in talking about the themes like what does it mean to be young today and what does Chronic Youth mean to us and a lot of our discussions were tying it back to the relevance of it now post-Covid, and I think that the fact that this film was made during Covid, but it wasn’t about Covid, spoke to us as well.

Yes, I got that sense that it wasn’t about the pandemic but it was the backdrop. And I guess with Tina as well, that isolation that she has – there was of course a lot of loneliness around the pandemic – but she’s on her own on her journey and it’s not because of the pandemic, but that plays into it.

Ant: Definitely.

So, in the relationship that the women have, they move from flatmates to friendship to maybe something more. Would you class it as a sapphic love story – do you think they have something deeper?

Ann: I would class it as a sapphic love story, yeah! I guess in those terms it’s interesting that it is a love story between two women, but no labels or categories are issued, in that sense. I guess it was more about the relationship itself than a specific identity.

Ant: Especially between the two women, it seems that Megi wasn’t really constrained as much by labels and what you would assume. Tina was still going on that journey. She’d dropped out of uni to get married and then, through her emotions and her relationships throughout the film, … I think it was nice to see her develop.

Image Courtesy of Barbican Chronic Youth Festival

Do you think that we need more stories like this about women finding their own expression and their own sense of self and identity?

Ant: I think yes, always! I would disagree with anyone that says we’ve gone past the point of needing to platform women’s stories because on screen, it’s so much fewer of the stories that are told focus on that. And I think it’s really interesting what Mariam said in the beginning, about how the co-writer wants to be involved, as a woman, if the story’s going to be about women. That’s great to hear that, that wanted to make sure women were involved in the direction of the story.

I guess the film has a very intimate feel to it, especially with the shaky hand-held camera work. Do you think this intimacy comforts the viewer or challenges the viewer more?

Ann: In terms of the style, I liked that you have those moments of such visual intimacy but then the camera pulls back and I love the long takes and how little the director cuts. So, in the two scenes in the car for instance, at the funeral, and then when Tina starts hitting her partner… when I first watched it, I was obsessed with the refusal to look away and the refusal to cut, even during something uncomfortable. I think that’s really hard to watch, but the more intimate scenes, I think they are uncomfortable but they’re so lovely to watch, and also so organic.

Ant: Yeah, I think both, it just really invites the audience in to the story.

And finally, you guys said that you found it difficult to get into the film industry. Do you have any advice for people that want to do that?

Ann: My advice is to… do everything, basically! I was a part of a film club organisation doing voluntary research and voluntary programming and all that. It’s kind of terrible that so many of these positions aren’t paid, but if you can find space among work and studies, just try and pick up as much as you can. I think that would be my advice, while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance!

Ant: As you said, we definitely don’t have the answers, but what we’ve seen. It’s been great being a programmer and being able to chat with a variety of different people in the industry and all of them, when they share the story of how they got to where they are, it’s always been about following their passion and being involved in as many things as possible until things gain momentum.

The Barbican Chronic Youth Festival took place over April the 22nd to the 23rd, 2023

Edited by Barney Nuttall, Deputy Editor-in-Chief


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