High in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia, grazing the Russian border, lies Tusheti, the ancestral homeland of the Tush people. Every fall, the only road into Tusheti closes for 7 months. An 82-year-old man named Irakli, the only licensed doctor in the 386-square-mile region, makes house calls on horseback to the dwindling population of Tushetians who chose to stay in the highlands in winter. Every house call he makes is an effort to preserve his culture’s way of life—to ensure that his community can remain in their homes through the winter; a right they lost when the Soviets forced their entire population down to the lowlands, banning reentry in the 1950s. In the ’90s, when families were allowed to re-inhabit the highlands, few chose to return year-round.
By providing a lifeline to this region, Irakli strives to preserve not only access to the land but also the culture and memory embedded within it. However, the future is uncertain—Irakli does not know how long he can continue this dangerous work or who will want to replace him.
This short documentary will follow Irakli and the community he serves as the road is about to close in the fall and through the depths of winter. Irakli will be the narrative thread, dedicated to reinvigorating the vibrancy of Tusheti’s past, but the essence of this story is the spirit of a community, bonded together to stick out the cold and lack of resources—holding onto a sense of home that could soon be lost to rural flight and Russian incursion.
TUSHURAI: THOSE WHO STAY is a fiscally sponsored project of the Austin Film Society. You can make a donation to this project here. You will receive a letter acknowledging your gift to the Austin Film Society on behalf of the project. Since AFS is a non-profit organization, your donation may be deducted from your taxes as a charitable contribution under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER
Robert Hope is a filmmaker originally from Northern California. Raised by a family of hardcore backpackers and gardeners, he loves to tell character-driven stories about loss and how the places we inhabit affect us. Robert’s work so far on the Georgian documentary TUSHURAI has won him a generous short film grant from the Austin Film Society. His short doc about an ex-commune in LA played at multiple Oscar-qualifying festivals. He produced a queer sci-fi film set in the redwoods which premiered at HBO’s Outfest and found a large online audience on the sci-fi channel Dust. His documentary on dementia during Covid-19 played at festivals nationwide and his upcoming short doc set in the Sonoma Valley oak savannas is about to hit the festival circuit. Robert is currently an MFA candidate in film production at UT Austin.