Shalva Shengeli: Unknown Soldiers

Recruit training in Georgia. From Recruit Gurchiani to Private Gurchiani. A symphathetic  young man from Upper Abkhazia is the main character in this documentary from Georgia. He is followed through some months in 2008 that leads up to the Russian-Georgian war in August the same year, in the Tskhinvali region. 186 Georgian soldiers died and 58 were injured according to the film. (The much higher civilian casualties on both sides are still not officially recognized, this is not in the film). And although the film ends with images from the graves of the fallen soldiers, thus the title, it has a different aim:

To show the tough recruit training, to let the soldier Gurchiani and a couple of sergeants talk about what they do, how it feels, and why they do it. There is an understandable patriotic atmosphere but although the soldiers-to-be have T-shirts with ”army” written on the front, the training can not compete with the one, we have seen in numerous documentaries of American origin, Frederick Wiseman’s ”Basic Training” to mention one.

It is clear that the director wants us to have good feelings about what we see, and for Gurchiani, and we do have, also softened by funny sequences about the young boys going on a leave for the first time after two months, sending hopeful gazes in the direction of young females. Brilliant observational camera work. Propaganda, yes, but ok for me.

Georgia, 61 mins., 2009

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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