You made a very impressive, sensitive and complex documentary that depicts apparently unconnected themes ending up to be intervowen with one another in a single coherent narration. TARZAN’S TESTICLES is set in the oldest primate institute of the world in Sukhumi, the capital of the breakaway region of Abkhazia. A land we know very little about. In the institute roughly 600 chimpanzees and apes are held in captivity and experimental pathology. Which was the main purpose of your documentary? You intended to depict Abkhazia’s reality with the story of its once glorious primate institute and the very diverse charachters populating it or you wanted let people know about the cruelty practiced inside against the animals?
Both of these things but I must say that when I started I moved from a different point of view. I was interested in stories of experiments for longevity, eternal human life and the ambition of the mankind to be immortal. The story of this doctor, Ilya Ivanov, who made hybridization experiments at the beginning of the twenty century. At that time there were a lot scientists who made experiments on longevity and eternal life, science was flourishing. And it was not only in the Soviet area, it was widespread Europe-wide. Ivanov was not a convinced communist, he was just pursuing his projects, he had the oppurtunity to be financially supported by the Soviet regime and he simply used it. I read about his story, about Ivanov, and then I found out he founded this institute. I went to the institute congress in 2011 and got in touch with this country. I realized that the country itself, Abkhazia, was a sort of imaginary country, like an utopia. Nobody recognize the existence of this country, just like the scientific experiments aimed at making human life eternal.
Did you had difficulties in filming inside the institute? Did they impose some restrictions to you?
When I met the people of the institute in 2011 it was the beginning. I had some talks, then I returned and I gained trust. The institute supported the film but of course there were some areas where I could not let in. Generally I must say their attitude was open, they wanted to show that they were making research and experiments for the science’s sake, and that they are keeping on with the tradition. But at the end they were disappointed because they found that there was not enough science in the documentary.
I think these animals and their captivity affect you indeed.
Yes, it was painful to film these monkeys because you recognize yourself in them, it is much easier than with other animals. They are very human, they behave like children. After a while but you realize that the life of people, of human people in the institute and in Abkhazia is really tough as the monkey’s life. I think the institute and monkeys are so to sat a mirror of life in Abkhazia.
You spent lot of time in Abkhazia. Which is your opinion about the future of this country?
The land is geopolitically stuck between Russia and Georgia. The Georgians committed massive atrocities in Abkhazia, the Abkhasi did the same. What is the way out? They risk to disappear as a people both with Georgia and with Russia.
How was your relation with Abkhazi during your staying?
People are very friendly and welcoming as in all Caucasus region. It is a very traditional and structured society. They are very conservative, patriarchial. As a foreign you have to fit in these codes.
You show conflicting positions in your documentary for example in the character of Alisa. She is a researcher but she rejects completely the idea of descending from apes. She is very religious and very nationalist. Can this contrast be explained with the re-awakening of religion and nationalism in almost all post-Soviet states?
I don’t see any contrast at all. Incoherence and conflicting positions happen everywhere. If you think to the United States, they are filled with contradictions. Ideoligies are over everywhere. People take what they need from different fields and different “ideological” thought. They simply make “copy and paste”.
What about the future of the primate institute in Sukhumi? Will it keep on running or it will be shut down?
It depends on money, 70% of the financial money comes from Russia. The institute is making research paid by Russian pharmaceutical companies.
Was Tarzan’s Testicles screened in Abkhazia?
Yes, I organized a screening in the only movie theatre, so to say, in the city. It is a place of 25 seats. Next week I am going to screen the documentary in Georgia. I am curious about the reactions but I have already had some samples. I met Georgians in screenings in Moscow and they were critical and very sensitive. They felt that I was too much in favour of the Abkhazi.