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Emory makes music for the big screen

Emory alumnus Nikoloz Kevkhishvili, writer and director of the new film “In Her Image,” has collaborated with Richard Prior, director of performance studies and conductor of the Emory Symphony Orchestra, and Paul Bhasin, director of wind studies and conductor of the Emory Wind Ensemble, to bring his movie to life.

With a score written by Prior, the short film will premiere Friday, Oct. 20, at 8 p.m. at Emory's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, with live accompaniment from the Emory Wind Ensemble, conducted by Bhasin. The free event, which marks the wind ensemble's first concert of the 2017-18 season, features other musical selections and a performance by brass soloists from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The journey that led the three artists to create this unique event began back in 2009, when Kevkhishvili came to Emory from the country of Georgia, a year after military conflict broke out with Russia.

Kevkhishvili was 17.

“I was lucky the conflict didn’t physically reach the capital where I was,” he says. “But I remember distinctly what I and everyone around me felt like when reality set in that images on TV were happening and that it was very real. I think there's a moment of confusion and then an instant wave of unification with people around you.”  

Growing up, Kevkhishvili fell in love with movies — especially ones that took place in America. 

“From very young age I loved movies and fantasized about a different life I could have, or specifically a different life I could create for myself,” he says.

That life would have America as the backdrop. After being accepted to several universities in the U.S., Kevkhishvili chose Emory.

“Originally I wanted to focus on earning a bachelor’s in business administration, and Goizueta Business School had one of the strongest programs available,” he says. He began his studies at Emory College of Arts and Sciences with a goal to transition to business school. But very soon after, he decided to pursue his dream of filmmaking. 

Emory's Concentration in Film and Media Management, a collaboration between the Department of Film and Media Studies in Emory College and the Goizueta Business School BBA Program, allowed him to combine his interests. Kevkhishvili majored in film studies and took classes with BBA students in areas such as marketing and management, graduating in 2013.

“It sounds cliché,” he says. “But when I asked myself ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ the only pleasant answer that floated more often than others was, ‘Go be a filmmaker like you always dreamed.’”

From Emory to the big screen

While finding a home in Atlanta, Kevkshishvili’s past continued to have a heavy influence over his art. His first film, “Saerto Ena” (“Common Tongue”), made during his last year at Emory, takes place during the chaos of that bloody 2008 conflict, following a Russian civilian and a Georgian soldier who must learn to work together in order to survive.

“I'm very proud and happy with how the film came out,” says Kevkhishvili. “The decision to make the film came from the need to tell a story that was part of my identity as a Georgian and my struggle to find a peaceful solution in an impossible setting that still is happening in Georgia."

The movie premiered in Atlanta at the historic Plaza Theater, after which it went on to play at various film festivals including Cinequest, Camera Image and others. In 2014, Sidarth Kantamneni, the cinematographer for “Saerto Ena,” was chosen for an Emerging Cinematographers Award by International Cinematographers Guild, giving Kevkhishvili a chance to have the film screened at DGA (Directors Guild of America) Theater in Los Angeles and then in New York.

Creativity and collaboration

Kevkhishvili’s new film also has roots at Emory. As a student, he met Prior while working at the Emory Center for Creativity and Arts.

“I’ve always admired his talent, and most importantly, his passion for music,”  Kevkhishvili says.

Their collaboration began when Bhasin, whom Kevkhishvili calls “equally talented and passionate,” suggested they create a concert featuring musical scores from movies. Or, Bhasin suggested, perhaps even create an original score for a selected short.

“Obviously I could never pass on an amazing opportunity,” says Kevkshishvili. They made a plan: Kevkhishvili would create a short film for which Prior would compose an original score, and Bhasin and the Emory Wind Ensemble would then perform it live at the Schwartz Center in front of an audience. 

The result is “In Her Image,” a sci-fi thriller set in the future that tells the story of a desperate mother who risks everything to save her son. 

“It has elements of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, but ultimately I wanted to focus more on the human side of the story,” says Kevkhishvili.

For that reason, he filmed everything in Tbilisi, Georgia.

“Working with some of the most talented and passionate crew, we decided to stay away from overwhelming visual effects as much as possible and showcase the capital’s locations," he explains. "The unique and raw look of the city mixed with beautiful camerawork really brings out a realistic look for the story."

'A dream come true'

Music adds another level of depth and beauty to the film. For Prior, an acclaimed composer and conductor, creating the score was a great way to tackle a new medium.  

“As a composer, I have always found film as an art form to possess striking similarities to music,” says Prior. “Creating a score for wind ensemble rather than the default symphony orchestra offered unique timbral blends and a general esthetic that integrated well with the tone and dramaturgy of the film itself.”

Bhasin is excited for the audience — and the student performers in the Emory Wind Ensemble — to have the chance to experience a project that involves the creation of new works of art.

“The students understood the disciplinary comparison between science research, creating new knowledge in the form of scientific research, and performing arts research, creating new works of art that contribute to the discursive practices in music and film arenas," the conductor explains. 

The other exciting part? The recording made by the Emory Wind Ensemble will be the version festival audiences and judges hear when Kevkhishvili applies to the festival circuit. 

“For me, ultimately, the goal is for the film to be seen,” says Kevkhishvili. “There’s a longer road ahead to potentially make a feature length film inspired by the short. The likelihood of that will definitely depend on everything we are working on combined, and a bit of luck, as always.” 

Heading into the film's premiere at Emory, Kevkhishvili says the score — and the collaborative process of creating it — is more than he could have hoped for. 

“It really was a dream come true,” he says. “To have your film on a big screen with live original score performed by talented musicians is a once in a lifetime experience. And there's nothing that beats the energy and atmosphere of a live performance. That's one of the reasons I'm so excited the audience will have a chance to view the film in Emerson Hall.”

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