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On camera in Soviet Georgia

The LEF Foundation

By Peter Keough Globe Correspondent 

There are scenes in Salomé Jashi’s documentary “The Dazzling Light of Sunset” that recall Eastern European black comedies such as Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest” (2006) or films from Poland and Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. Whether Jashi’s subject — a local TV station in the former Soviet Georgia — deserves such a sad, sardonic gaze is another matter, and that’s a question which, in a surprising coda, the filmmaker herself candidly confronts. 

In the end, this is not a cheap shot at benighted members of the media, but an endorsement of their struggle to report the truth.

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As can be seen from the crude studio and the tacky poster of a coastal scene covering a wall, the town of Tsalenjikha’s broadcast outlet Jikha TV is not in the same league as such media giants as CNN or even tiny news stations in any small American city. Its two employees — Dariko, the anchor and sole reporter, and Kakha, her stoic, bald-headed producer — are earnest, idealistic, and hardworking despite their shrinking budget, pressure from a petty and potentially punitive bureaucracy, and a scramble for interesting items.

Like their American counterparts, the journalists at Jikha TV have a quota of stories needed to fill their broadcast, and most often what they find is not very newsworthy — sometimes it’s even absurd. Such as the case when Dariko gets excited after hearing that a local man has captured a rare owl. As she rushes to cover it, Kakha grumbles that they have done an owl story already. 

Nonetheless, Dariko arrives on the scene to file a report on the bird which is said to have a “wingspan of two meters.” Instead, she finds a toothless codger with a small, grim raptor perched on his arm. The bird ends up in a cage that for some reason is left unattended at the bottom of a stairwell and one fears that its sudden celebrity might lead to an uncertain future.

Other stories also combine elements of weirdness, tackiness, and potential cruelty. Many of the stories are staged — literally, as they take place in a theater or other performance setting, an artificiality that adds an extra element of surreality and oppressiveness. 

A beauty contest and fashion show for girls ages12 to 22 includes sexualized pre-pubescents wearing giant heels that look bigger than the kids wearing them (“heels should never be less than 15 centimeters!” the woman directing the show barks). A sad memorial takes place commemorating the death of an old soldier who raised the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945. And as a local election gets heated, Dariko’s coverage of squabbling pols seems to be getting her in trouble with the local authorities. 

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So, too, apparently, is Jashi’s film. Dariko and Kakha confront the filmmaker near the end, explaining how those in charge have been noting what she films and what she doesn’t and are concerned that she is emphasizing the negative. They fear they must close down the station because their budget has been cut. “Why did you need, for example, to film rundown buildings?” Dariko asks plaintively.

They have a point, though some of those rundown buildings contain moments of beauty that capture and celebrate the Georgian culture and spirit. Such as the masterful opening sequence, in which the camera tracks along a row of windows in a battered auditorium and reveals a small audience listening to musicians performing a folk song of aching melancholy. Though Jashi might satirize the official version of events, she recognizes the truth behind the manufactured illusion, and respects the efforts of this tiny outpost of the media to report on it. 

“The Dazzling Light of Sunset” screens Monday at 7 p.m. as part of the DocYard series at the Brattle Theatre. 

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@ gmail.com.