Simon Esadze and Early Film Culture in Georgia

Nino Dzandzava
The history of Georgian cinema can be divided into four main historical periods: pre-1918 cinema, when Georgia was part of the Russian Empire; cinema during the short-lived but culturally exciting Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921), followed by Soviet Georgia cinema (1922-1991), and post-Soviet Georgian cinema (1991 to the present). These four stages are all characterised by very different political and social environments, and they also privilege different aesthetic values. This article reconstructs the first, and hitherto less well-known, chapter of Georgia's cinema history, specifically focusing on Simon Esadze’s contribution to the development of Georgian filmmaking between 1908 and 1918. It argues that Esadze’s career in film, which has yet to be fully researched and analysed, is emblematic of the unsettled cultural environment and constrained political and economic circumstances of the period. Studying his films and unpublished archival materials sheds light on this hitherto obscure aspect of the first chapter in the history of Georgian cinema.
Simon Esadze; Ludwig Czerny; Aleksandr Shvugerman; Caucasus; Russian Empire; Tbilisi; Tiflis; First World War; Georgian cinema; German cinema; Notofilm; documentary film; wartime newsreels; Skobelev Committee; historical drama; military history; imperialism; colonialism.

Introduction: Who Was Simon Esadze?

The Conquest of the Caucasus : Transnationalism and Imperialism

Praised by the Emperor, Exploited by the Company

Simon Esadze – Documentary Filmmaker

The Distribution of Esadze’s Documentaries and the Role of the Skobelev Committee

Controversies, Deviations, and New Findings

The Surviving Films — a Closer Look





Suggested Citation

Introduction: Who Was Simon Esadze?

The emergence of Georgia’s film culture predates the Bolshevik invasion and occupation of Georgia in 1921, which led to the Sovietisation of the country’s film industry. Several fiction films and newsreel series were produced during the short period of the Georgian Democratic Republic (1918-1921).1 However, the true origins of Georgian cinema are to be found in the late Imperial period. Georgia embraced the new technological medium of moving images with great enthusiasm. The first film screening, held on November 16, 1896 in Tiflis, was followed within a few years by the opening of venues that offered regular screenings (Dighmelovi 1987: 45-46). Their repertoire in the first decade consisted only of foreign films until the first newsreels produced by Georgian cameramen were made available. In the late 1900s, dozens of documentary films were shot in the Georgian provinces of the Russian Empire by the cameramen Vasil Amashukeli and Aleksandre Dighmelashvili.2 According to Dighmelashvili’s memoirs, Pathé, Gaumont, and Thiemann & Reinhard often purchased footage that he had shot in Georgia (Dighmelovi 1987: 44). Films were also commissioned and produced by Sof’ia Ivanitskaia, a Georgia-based film distributor, producer, and cinema owner from Odesa.3 In the early 1910s, the Italian filmmaker and cameraman Giovanni Vitrotti, commissioned by the Russian firm Thiemann & Reinhardt, made documentaries in Tiflis as well as in other regions of Georgia. He also directed two adaptations of classic Russian literary texts in Mtskheta, a town near Tiflis, specifically Aleksandr Pushkin’s Kavkazskii plennik / The Prisoner of the Caucasus (Giovanni Vitrotti, 1911, Russian Empire) and Mikhail Lermontov’s Demon / The Demon (Giovanni Vitrotti, 1911, Russian Empire) (Grashchenkova 2005: 33).

One of the most significant figures of early Georgian cinema was Colonel Simon Esadze, a military historian and a filmmaker, whose work is the subject of this article. Esadze became involved in cinema while serving in high-ranking positions as the Director of the Caucasian Military History Museum, known as ‘The Temple of Glory’ (‘Khram Slavy’), and as the Head of the Military History Department at the Caucasus Military District Headquarters in Tiflis. As a historian rather than an entrepreneur, Esadze brought a unique perspective to filmmaking. He worked in cinema, on a number of projects and in various roles, from the 1910s until his death in 1927.

Despite Esadze’s importance, little is known about his filmmaking career. His name is first associated with the large-scale feature film project of the Russian company Drankov & Taldykin, Pokorenie Kavkaza / The Conquest of the Caucasus (aka The Battle of Ghunib), Ludwig Czerny, Simon Esadze, 1913, Russian Empire, non-extant), on which he acted as chief historical consultant, screenwriter, and co-director. Today considered lost, The Conquest of the Caucasus was the first major production filmed in Georgia that employed a majority of local (Georgian) staff. Esadze also led the filmmaking group of the Military History Department, which filmed military operations on the Caucasian front during the First World War.

Simon Esadze (left) and an unidentified person inspecting a film. Tiflis, 1910s. Image courtesy of The National Archives of Georgia.

Esadze’s involvement in cinema continued into the period of the Georgian Democratic Republic, when he contributed to the production of one of the earliest Georgian feature films, Kristine (Aleksandre Tsutsunava, 1919, Georgian Democratic Republic). Thereafter, he made several attempts to gain employment in the Soviet Georgian film industry. In 1924, Esadze acted as a consultant on the screenplay – written by Sakhkinmretsvi for the Georgian state film studio – for an adaptation of Lev Tolstoi’s historical novella Hadji Murad (posthumously published in 1912), which focuses on the eponymous Avar leader of the peoples of Dagestan and Chechnya and his struggles against the rule of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus.4 The project, which was to be directed by Ivan Perestiani in two instalments, was never made into a feature film. In 1925, together with Aleksandr Kulebiakin, a former Lieutenant General and poet, Esadze co-wrote the script for the historical drama Zelimkhan.5 According to archival documents, the project stalled as the commissioners of the Azerbaijan Film and Photo Administration (Azerbaidzanskoe Foto-Kino Upravlenie) were not satisfied with the results: Esadze and Kulebiakin had apparently failed to meet the expectation that they would portray Zelimkhan, a Chechen outlaw who fought against Russian authorities, as one of the main figures of the 1905 revolution.6 That same year, Esadze approached Sakhkinmretsvi, as well as Mezhrabpom-Rus and the Film Section of the All-Union Scientific Association of Oriental Studies (Kinosektsiia Vsesoiuznoi Nauchnoi Assotsiatsii Vostokovedeniia), with a proposal to write his own scenario for a film based on Hadji Murad.7 Esadze had studied this subject in the early 1900s, while he assisted Tolstoi to gather historical evidence for his novella. Imam Shamil, the leader of the resistance to Russian expansion in the Caucasus in the mid-nineteenth century, was another historical person in whom Sakhkinmretsvi was interested as a potential film character of revolutionary appeal. Esadze had already published a book on Shamil. In 1927, the film studio commissioned him to gather historical materials for a future film, but Esadze’s death, in the same year, prevented him from finishing this research.8

Although Ezadze was the first Georgian script writer and feature film director, his works have not received due academic attention. His affiliation with pre-Soviet governments and his involvement in the political and cultural life of the Russian Empire might explain why Soviet researchers have disregarded and neglected his works. While pre-1918 cinema in general was not exhaustively studied by Soviet film historians, the major Soviet works that do examine the cinema heritage of the Russian Empire not only fail to mention Esadze’s name, but also ignore the entire corpus of First World War newsreels shot by cineastes in Tiflis (Ginzburg 1963; Lebedev 1965). One Soviet film scholar who did work with Esadze’s paper archives, housed at the National Archives of Georgia, was Valentina Tsomaia. Her academic research, available mainly in Georgian but also partly in Russian, mentions several important facts regarding Esadze’s life and career, but she does not go deep into the subject, devoting only a few paragraphs to this (Tsomaia 1973: 20-26).

This article aims to fill this gap in our knowledge about Esadze’s contribution to pre-1918 cinema culture in Georgia. Drawing on primary sources, including paper collections as well as moving images and press archives – most of which have not previously been the subject of academic research conducted by scholars engaged in the study of early cinema in the Russian Empire –, it examines, evaluates, and brings to light Esadze’s film legacy. My discussion focuses primarily on Esadze’s two major projects of the early 1910s: The Conquest of the Caucasus and the First World War documentary series, which consists of almost 80 titles. By shedding light on Esadze’s hitherto understudied filmmaking career, the article demonstrates that Georgian cinema, despite lacking resources and despite its political and economic dependence on the Russian Empire, emerged long before it became a significant player in the Soviet film industry.

The Conquest of the Caucasus: Transnationalism and Imperialism

The historical drama The Conquest of the Caucasus (non-extant) was Simon Esadze’s most ambitious film project. Recounting the historical events of Russia’s conquest of the Caucasus region during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was one of the most opulent historical dramas ever shot in the Russian Empire before 1913 (7 parts, 2525 metres). That year, under the same title (alternative title, The Capture of Shamil), another feature was released on Russian screens, directed by Vasilii Goncharov for Aleksandr Khanzhonkov’s production company, a rival of Drankov & Taldykin. Both pictures premiered in October 1913, one day apart.

The trading house Drankov & Taldykin consulted with the aforementioned Sof’ia Ivanitskaia, regarding the film project.9 On Ivanitskaia’s advice, the Russian firm approached Esadze — as a renowned expert on the Caucasus wars — and offered him a consulting role on the project, as a historian. According to the agreement signed between the parties in July 1913, Esadze was hired to give instructions to the director, Ludwig Czerny, and the set designer, Franz Rubo, to correct the existing script as much as possible, and to add new narratives to maintain historical accuracy.10 However, Esadze’s role was not limited to screenwriting. He also took part in directing. Indeed, in some press reports on the film, Esadze is often mentioned as the sole author of the film, while Ludwig Czerny’s name is omitted (Anonymous 1913: 80).

Ludwig Czerny, 1910s. Image courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek.

The Conquest of the Caucasus is an interesting example of an early film project created by multi-ethnic creative forces in the Russian Empire, a case-study proving that cinema as a medium was part of a transnational system from its beginnings. The co-director, Ludwig Czerny (1885-1941), was a Belgrade-born Austrian who first pursued an acting career and then worked as a choreographer and stage director. In 1909, Czerny toured South America as the leading director of an operetta company, moving to the major cities of Russia and Holland a few years later. In German cinema, Czerny’s name is primarily associated with the early sound cinema systems that he developed with the composer Tillman Springfeld. Formed in 1919 by Czerny and Springfield, the Notofilm company employed one of the three most prominent systems used in the production of German synchronised music film and its subgenres (film operas, film operettas, Filmsingspiele, Singfilme, Gesangsfilme) between 1914 and 1929 (Wedel 1999: 464). From 1919 to 1924, using Notofilm, Czerny made one dance film, four film operettas, and one film opera. After the unsuccessful release of Das Mädel von Pontecuculi / The Prince and the Maid (Ludwig Czerny, 1924, Germany), Czerny left the company. He shot several documentaries and one sound feature film in the early 1930s, before the Nazis came to power in Germany. Czerny died in Berlin, in 1941, during an air raid.

The cameraman on The Conquest of the Caucasus was Nikolai Kozlovskii (1887-1939), the Ukrainian photographer and camera operator who had shot Aleksandr Drankov’s Sten’ka Razin (Vladimir Romashkov, 1908, Russian Empire) – the film conventionally referred to, in histories of Russian cinema, as the ‘first Russian feature film’ (Beumers 2009: 9) – and who would go on to work with the director Evgenii Bauer on his early films Krovavaia slava / Bloody Glory (Bauer and Vitalii Brianskii, 1913, Russian Empire, non-extant) and Sumerki zhenskoi dushi / Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (Evgenii Bauer, 1913, Russian Empire).11 Franz Rubo (1856-1928), an artist of French origin from Odesa (Ukraine), who made a name for himself in the world of Russian painting with his battle panoramas, was employed as the set designer.

Esadze’s writing and co-directing was one of the Georgian contributions to the film, as was the work of Georgian technical staff and of the actors cast in the leading roles (Nikoloz [Kola] Eristavi, Giorgi Aradeli-Ishkhneli, Lado Gvishiani, Giorgi Iordanashvili, Irakli Kalandadze, Datuna Abdusheli, Zaal Terishvili etc). Zakaria Berishvili served as assistant director (Nikoladze 1958: 152) and the cameraman Vladimer Kereselidze shot parts of the film (Kereselidze 2013: 77). Zakaria Vakhtangishvili and Grigol Mkheidze, who later had long careers as make-up artists in Soviet Georgian film and theatre, were also engaged to work on the production. In addition, the famous theatre actor Valerian Gunia played seven different characters: Imam Shamil, King Erekle II, General Ermolov, Major Zolotukhin, General Galafeev, the clergyman Pais, and Mola Makhoma.12 Gunia was the first Georgian actor to work in cinema, and his participation did much to diminish scepticism about the value of the new art form in Georgia.13

The diverse cultural, artistic, and ethnic backgrounds of the creators of The Conquest of the Caucasus reflect the cosmopolitan nature of cinema in the Russian Empire. Russia’s national film industry and distribution gained a relatively late foothold compared to Western countries, and the establishment of ties with the Western film industry largely determined the Russian film market and production.

‘Russian’ films from the early 1900s sold well in the West, which saw the Russian Empire as exotic and unknown. Increased interest in this region in European countries, as well as a lack of information from the empire provided fertile ground for their productions to be distributed on foreign markets. Just as the West exoticised the Russian Empire, so the Empire itself exoticised its colonies.14 In early cinema, transnational aspirations combined with colonial attitudes. Ethnographic documentaries showed stories from the Caucasus, the Far East, or the Far North (Ginzburg 1963: 59). From the end of the 1900s onwards, ethnography nurtured by imperialist ideology, which aroused a sense of cultural superiority among the audience, was also applied to feature films. The Conquest of the Caucasus is one of the films with a similar colonialist pathos.

The film depicts both the peaceful and the combat phases of the establishment of Russian rule in the Caucasus, specifically: the reign of King Erekle II, the last great king of Kartli-Kakheti, who signed the treaty that turned Georgia into a protectorate of the Russian Empire (the treaty was abrogated by Russia which proceeded to annex Georgia); the subjugation of Dagestan; General Grabe’s expedition in Akhulgo in 1839; the participation of the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov in a clash near the Valerik River; the capture of the Ghunib; the capture of Imam Shamil, the leader of the Caucasian Emirate and Russia’s chief adversary in the Caucasus; and other historical episodes. The film offers a typical picture of the Russian imperialist narrative about the Caucasus, which clearly outlines the ‘civilising’ role of the empire.

The film also contained documentary and ethnographic scenes. The newspaper Kavkaz mentions “several scenes from Georgian life.” (Kobiakov 1913: 3).15 According to the Russian magazine Sine-Fono “a large place is devoted to ethnographic scenes depicting the lives of Caucasian peoples” (Anonymous 1913: 80). The Conquest of the Caucasus also shows the procession of eight thousand people to a church during a religious holiday. The filmmakers brought the characters of Georgian kings to life in the Ksani Eristavi Palace, which dates from the late medieval period. Noble Eristavs (dukes), patrons of the palace, are dressed in the costumes of their ancestors and filmed in interiors decorated with old carpets and weapons. The Conquest of the Caucasus reflected folk games as well as horse racing and local customs (Gelashvili 2014: 20). Documentary and ethnographic elements allowed the authors to preserve history and to export Georgian culture outside of Georgia, while producers used exotic locations, costumes, and characters that would sell well throughout the Imperial film market. The film hails Russia’s wars and expansionist politics and supports Imperial interventionist approaches, as mentioned above. At the same time, however, by including documentary segments and fictionalised episodes with Georgian kings and nobility, the film might have been intended to prove that the conquered territories belonged to a civilised world with a rich cultural and historical past.

Frame still from Ludwig Czerny and Simon Esadze, The Conquest of the Caucasus, 1913. Images courtesy of The National Parliamentary Library of Georgia, Digital Library Iverieli.

The Conquest of the Caucasus is a prime example of how a private company and the Imperial government collaborated to make a feature film before the October Revolution. The government gave full support to the film at both the production and distribution stages. With the consent of the viceroy of the Caucasus, Prince Ilarion Vorontsov-Dashkov, eight military regiments of Caucasian troops were placed at the disposal of the producers. The heads of the military units provided all possible assistance for large-scale tasks while the officers, under Esadze, who was also a Lieutenant Colonel, commanded the troops’ operations.16 Ludwig Czerny, “the director of the Munich Theatre”, undertook to film the mass scenes (Kobiakov 1913: 3). The Tula Arms Factory manufactured antique weapons for the battle scenes, and Aleksei Taldykin’s costume workshops designed and created the soldiers’ clothing and equipment, each according to the respective era depicted in that scene of the film.17

The central narrative covers the colonial wars in the Caucasus and shows the Russian Empire’s mighty victory, aiming to glorify its power. The Caucasus is portrayed as an exotic and less civilised region, and the Russian Empire as its saviour and protector. Consequently, The Conquest of the Caucasus is at least in part a propaganda film. The general story contained many heroic scenes, which carried the major emotional load. Many episodes of the colonial wars showed the heroic sacrifice of soldiers serving in the Imperial army, including some Georgian soldiers. This ideological reconstruction of history did not show the real motives for the struggle of the peoples of the Caucasus region, and the authors of the film unilaterally covered the course of events only from the Russian political perspective. In any case, it would be unthinkable for a film made with the support and consent of the Imperial authorities and, what is more, in the year of the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty to contain any critique of Russia’s Imperial wars by, for example, depicting the heroism of a Chechen fighter, or expressing sympathy for the cause of the Russian Empire’s Caucasian antagonists.

Film poster for The Conquest of the Caucasus, 1913. Image courtesy of The National Archives of Georgia.

Praised by the Emperor, Exploited by the Company

The Conquest of the Caucasus was well received. The film’s closed premiere, which was attended by members of the Skobelev Committee (an organisation that will be discussed below), high-ranking military officials, and the press, took place on October 2, 1913, in the overcrowded hall of the Saint Petersburg Cinema Gigant. The film was released to the general public a few days later, on October 8. The Saint Petersburg newspaper Vechernee vremia wrote about the film, as follows:

The result, shown on the screen yesterday, undoubtedly testifies to the careful performance of the staging and the solid erudition of the leaders. The whole series generally gives an impression of integrity, and some of the scenes, such as Akhulgo, the heroism of Arkhip Osipov, and other scenes, are breathtaking. (Anonymous 1913: 80).

The special screenings that the company conducted in parallel with the wide distribution were always focused on gaining the goodwill of the upper strata of society. For example, on November 4, 1913, ministers, high-ranking military officials, and nobles attended a screening at the Cinema Odeon on the Crimean Peninsula. The next day, November 5, at the Romanovs’ residence of the Livadia Palace, the company presented the film in abbreviated form to Nikolai II and his family. Two hundred people attended the event. The emperor praised The Conquest of the Caucasus, wished the film success and Russian military cinematography future prosperity.18

Tiflis spectators also warmly welcomed The Conquest of the Caucasus. The Georgian premiere took place between October and December 1913 at the Cinema Modern. Then, at the insistence of the public, the Ricci brothers, the directors of the Cinema Modern, again ordered the picture from Russia. The first screening of the newly arrived copy was held in January 1914, primarily for the viceroy in his palace in Tiflis.19

Simon Esadze’s participation in the production and the post-production processes substantially contributed to the film’s general success and its positive reception by high society. Thanks to his expertise on the Russian conquest of the Caucasus, Esadze enjoyed a very high professional reputation among both scholars and the military alike. It was his authority and involvement that helped Drankov and Taldykin’s trading house win the government’s favour. The producers themselves were satisfied with Esadze’s work. After the screening of the film at the Livadia Palace, Taldykin thanked Esadze for “his work and his wise scholarly instructions, for which the picture deserved the highest approval.”20 This did not, however, prevent Taldykin from refusing to fulfil his payment obligations. According to the agreement between the producers and Esadze, the trading house was to pay the latter five percent of the net profits from sales and royalties up to the amount of 500 rubles.21

Even three years after the film’s release, however, the company had not reimbursed Esadze for any fees or for travel and subsistence expenses that he had paid out of his pocket during post-production in Moscow. In 1915, Esadze appealed to the Moscow Gradonachalnik, the Head of administration of a city, for help. However, Taldykin lied to the police and not only denied that he had not reimbursed the filmmaker but also insisted that he “had no business relationship with Colonel Esadze at all and had no knowledge of his involvement in the production of The Conquest of the Caucasus. As a result, Esadze was never invited to travel to Moscow and Petrograd.”22 It was not until 1916 that Drankov finally paid 500 rubles to Esadze.

The production company also failed to fulfil their promise to the Caucasus Military History Museum (‘The Temple of Glory’), according to which the company had to lodge at the museum a full copy of the film for preservation and non-commercial purposes. Although the Viceroy's administration banned Drankov and Taldykin from filming in the Caucasus in the event of non-compliance, ‘The Temple of Glory’ did not receive a copy for its collections.23

Towards the end of 1913, the company sold the negative of The Conquest of the Caucasus to Pathé.24 According to Drankov and Taldykin, it was this situation that led to their failing to fulfil some of their financial obligations. However, in 1914 the trading house redistributed the re-edited version of the film. As a result, it appeared on screens in a reduced length (1775 metres), with a slightly modified title — Vziatie Guniba ili pokorenie Kavkaza / The Capture of Ghunib or The Conquest of the Caucasus (Vishnevskii 1945: 32). The new version was 750 metres shorter than the original film (2525 metres), which meant a 36-minute difference at a projection speed of 18 frames per second. Thus, it is likely that the re-edited version (non-extant) was markedly different from the original.

Simon Esadze – Documentary Filmmaker

The Conquest of the Caucasus is the only feature film that Simon Esadze directed. However, he soon linked his primary occupations of historian and soldier to documentary filmmaking. In 1913, Esadze was promoted to the position of the Head of the Military History Department under the Headquarters of the Caucasus Military District, and he continued to work as the director of the Military History Museum. After the outbreak of the First World War, Esadze took advantage of his professional roles to film documentaries and, during 1915 and 1916, he made more than 80 short films with a total length of more than 7,000 metres. While perhaps insignificant by comparison with the vast body of First World War newsreels produced by Western countries, this figure is impressive if we consider how Esadze had to work. First, the state’s financial contribution to this film series was minimal. Second, material, technical, and human resources were scarce, and, finally, Esadze made his documentaries in a competitive and disruptive environment shaped by the Skobelev Committee, an organisation supported by the highest authorities.

The Skobelev Committee for the Relief of Wounded Soldiers was established at the Military Academy of the General Staff in Saint Petersburg in 1904, in order to provide financial support to the veterans of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). The Committee adopted the name of Mikhail Dmitrievich Skobelev (1843-1882), a Russian military leader known as the ‘White General’.25 The Committee was a public organisation supported by both private donations and the emperor himself. It simultaneously served philanthropic and propagandistic purposes (Kenez 1985: 105). In November 1914, the Committee established a Military-Cinematographic Department. However, recent archival research reveals that by 1913 – that is, before the establishment of the cinematographic department – the Committee had already produced at least eight short documentaries.26

After the outbreak of the First World War, the Skobelev Committee was awarded, from the government, a monopoly on military filming at the front, which barred private Russian and foreign film companies from filming there.27 Foreign or other local Russian producers could only cover the events happening in the rear areas. However, military censorship made even this problematic (Ginzburg 1963: 180). It was only on December 8, 1916 that private firms were allowed to film at the front (Ibid.: 335).

Archival materials preserved in Georgia reveal that there was at least one more player involved in the production of wartime newsreels in this period, however. Neglected by historians, this player was Simon Esadze. Before the end of the Skobelev Committee’s monopoly, Esadze, together with his cameraman, Aleksandr Vital’evich Shvugerman [Schwugermann],28 spent almost two years filming in the rear areas and on the frontline.

Esadze possessed fewer financial and human resources than the Skobelev Committee, which was backed by the state in Petrograd. The latter had incomparably greater opportunities to produce films compared to the Military History Department in Tiflis. In the face of the Skobelev Committee’s monopoly, the ban on filming at the front, the lack of raw materials, and the Committee’s obstruction of Esadze's activities, which I will discuss later in this article, it is all the more surprising that the small but ambitious Military History Department managed to make war newsreels.

In October 1914, Esadze appealed to the Chief of Headquarters of the Caucasus Army to be allowed to film in Asia Minor.29 His original goal was to collect materials on the history of the Caucasus Army of the Russian Empire (Kavkazskaia Armiia).30 To this end, he also requested the appointment of his subordinate editor, Staff Captain Nikolai Konstantinovich Smirnskii, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, as his cinematographer.31 Finally, in February 1915, Esadze’s initiative was approved. As a result, he and artillery intelligence officer Smirnskii were allowed to film and photograph on the Caucasus front and elsewhere in the Caucasus.32 However, this permission had certain conditions attached, namely that Esadze was obliged to submit the materials to the Headquarters of the Caucasus Army and that he was allowed to show films publicly only with the consent of the Army Chief of Staff.33

In Esadze’s archives, Smirnskii’s name appears only in the permission documents for filming at the front. We must therefore assume that this cooperation did not result in the production of any films: in February 1915, Esadze informed the commander of the Caucasus Army that he had solved all the issues necessary for filming, except for the issue of a cameraman.34 In March 1915, Shvugerman, a military serviceman of the Caucasus Border Mountain Battery, took up duties as a cameraman for Colonel Esadze.35 By this time, Shvugerman had twelve years’ experience working as a cameraman in Rostov-on-Don and Moscow.36

According to one of Esadze’s reports, he planned to attend all the filming himself and to give Shvugerman specific instructions, thus fully supervising the cameraman’s work.37 It is interesting that Esadze does not refer to himself as a director here, although his explanations show that he would have been fulfilling the general functions of a film director. As a result, Esadze’s comments clarify his duties while filming at the Caucasian Front, which had hitherto been obscure to some scholars (Malysheva 2016: 542).

Eventually, Esadze was able to appoint Aleksandr Shvugerman as his cameraman and also as his assistant.38 Shvugerman assisted the director in film distribution in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Baku, Rostov-on-Don, and other cities, and was involved in the technical and organisational issues of purchasing film stock and necessary film and photographic equipment. Most notably, it was Shvugerman who shot the entire newsreel series of the Caucasus front of the First World War, directed by Esadze and commissioned by the Military History Department.

In early June 1915, Esadze and Shvugerman set out to film the Caucasian front for the first time. However, before leaving for combat positions, they filmed the top commanders of the Caucasus Army and the personnel of military and civil organisations in Tiflis.