Nikozi is a small village in central Georgia about one kilometer away from Russian-occupied Georgian territory. During the Russian- Georgian War of August 2008, Nikozi was almost completely destroyed. Many innocent lives were lost; many more were internally displaced. Villages through and around the conflict zone were emptied, and the illegal borderization by Russian troops continues to this day. It seemed that the same fate was awaiting Nikozi.
Then, in 2009, the Archbishop of Nikozi and Tskhinvali Region tried to maintain the village population and create opportunities for the children there. A former animator himself, he opened up a free art school and welcomed everyone, regardless of religion or race, to take part in rebuilding the community. What is more, he started an International Animation Film Festival, in a place without resources or infrastructure—a festival without competition, a festival full of different nationalities singing together around the shared table.
Everyone who visits Nikozi is adopted by this place—a symbol of hope, a place which doesn’t recognize borders, where enemies can have a dialogue, where art is used as a healing weapon.
The universal story of devastation on the way to healing unfolds in front of our eyes, told through the many voices of Children of Nikozi—from the villagers, the frequent guests, and famous artists, to the people who only stopped by to watch some films as a way to pass their evening.
One day I woke up to the screams of my summer camp leader—The Russians are coming! We were supposed to empty the camp and return to our families at once… except, as far as I knew, my family had been visiting a monastery located precisely where the conflict was happening; in the village of Nikozi and its whereabouts. This was 12 years ago, in August of 2008, and it took what felt like days to get a call from my family confirming their safety. As soon as the fire ceased, I went to Nikozi, and as I stood on the ashes of the bombed and desolate village, I knew I needed to tell its story.
This was one of those stories that didn’t let me be; I knew I couldn’t drop it. Over the years I tried many creative mediums; I wrote short stories, I painted images, wrote and directed a theater play. But everything seemed a little too contrived. My Nikozi lacked reality and the distance from my country and the flowing of time didn’t help to make it any better.
Perhaps I didn’t go back before, scared of confronting again the story I wanted to tell for so long…
I was running up and down with my camera along the forbidden border. . . My guides yelled at me, I saw regret on their faces—the Russian border patrol shouldn’t have been toyed with.
Later I got a call, they pleaded with me not to show their faces.
Everything was still very much divided, 12 years later… But I was to enter a new world, only physically near to that unfriendly, desolate sight.
Children of Nikozi
I watched the villagers, the Archbishop, the frequent guests prepare for the festival; there was a great sense of unity. In awe I observed, filmed and interviewed Nikozians old and young; how bravely they approached the uncertain future, how grateful they were for what little they had and how warm heartedly they received everyone in a place where good and beautiful competes against war and destruction.
I hope, through watching this film you can become a child of Nikozi and have a renewed desire to always work towards bettering yourself. May you feel the pleasure of peaceful coexistence but never lose an awareness in the dark sides of humanity...
In this universal story of Peace and of War...