nato vachnadze natalia jugheli

Source: Nato Vachnadze Foundation / Vazhak

Nato Vachnadze, Natalia Jugheli

Georgia’s Nato Vachnadze Foundation is launching an annual film awards ceremony to celebrate the country’s filmmaking output.

Founded by Natalia Jugheli, a London-based Georgian actress, the Nato Vachnadze Foundation is named after early Georgian film icon Nato Vachnadze. Jugheli is Vachnadze’s great-granddaughter.

The inaugural Eliso awards will take place on June 14 - the 120th anniversary of Vachnadze’s birth -  at the Nato Vachnadze House Museum in Gurjaani, Georgia. The awards have been backed by corporate sponsors including the TBC Bank, drinks brand Sarajishvili and petrol firm Gulf, plus the Gurjaani municipality.

The Eliso awards aims to work to help heal the ongoing division in Georgia’s film industry that has seen filmmakers and industry professionals protest against government interference, censorship and intimidation.

They launched the independent Georgian Film Institute (GFI) in 2019, turning their backs on state body, the Georgian National Film Centre (GNFC).

The Elisos are open to films backed by the GNFC, as well as those made by GFI members.


The awards are named after Eliso, a 1928 Georgian silent feature film about villagers resisting the resettlement efforts of the Russian government. The title character was played by Vachnadze’s sister, Kira Andronikashvili; while the film was directed by Vachnadze’s husband Nikoloz Shengelaia.

It will give awards in three categories: best acting (a gender-neutral award), best directing, and best cinematography. Winners in each category will receive small financial awards, with the aim of empowering their careers.

Jugheli said the aim is that future editions of the ceremony will include more categories. 

“As a filmmaker working in Georgia, I know what a struggle it can be,” said Jugheli. “So my primary thought was that the Eliso awards should not be just a recognition for the work but it should also support artists’ future steps both financially or conceptually. That’s why the first year has limited nominations; but I strongly believe that from the next year the growth of nominees is inevitable.”

The awards will be open to feature films – including documentaries - produced or co-produced by Georgian companies, released between January 1 and December 31, 2023.

The foundation is selecting five jury members, comprised of international and Georgian filmmakers.

A separate honorary prize will also be given each year to a woman who has made a significant contribution to her field in the screen industry.

Eldar Shengelaia, the son of Vachnadze and Shengelaia, became one of Georgia’s most prominent directors, making films including 1985’s Blue Mountains, or Unbelievable Story – a Cannes selection, although Shengelaia was unable to attend the festival due to Soviet Union laws. His films most recently appeared in Cannes Classics in 2014 and 2019. Now 91 years old, his most recent feature was 2017 comedy The Chair.

“My parents cared deeply about the development of cinema, and they were renowned for supporting people around them,” said Shengelaia. “I couldn’t think of a better way to honour their legacy than by creating an award that empowers filmmakers today.”