A few years ago, citizens of rural Georgia witnessed a bizarre scene: a huge tree slowly floating on a small barge across the sea. It seemed like a snapshot from some fantasy movie, but it was real. That was part of a passion project of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire and former Prime Minister of Georgia.
As a lover of nature, Ivanishvili wanted to have his own ideal garden. He made orders to find the oldest and most beautiful trees in the country and move them all to one place — his estate on the Black Sea coast. More than 200 ancient trees had been transported miles across land and sea. By summer 2020, the garden — or, as it is officially called, the Shekvetili Dendrological Park — was opened to the public.
Georgian filmmaker and former journalist Salomé Jashi captured the trees’ journey in her documentary, Taming the Garden, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The movie has no soundtrack, “talking heads” (experts commenting the story), or background explanations. All we can see is the reaction of the local people, who stand in helpless silence and bid farewell to the trees that have grown in front of their homes for centuries.
As with many things in life, there are opposite views on this project. For the filmmaker, the whole story seems like a crazy eco vandalism of an extremely rich man with a giant ego. The garden, which has flamingos, pelicans and lemurs, is a display of power and wealth — an ugly contrast to the relatively poor life of ordinary people. Yet many locals speak of Ivanishvili in a good way. A well-known philanthropist, he built many roads, invested in healthcare, and restored historical buildings. His dream-come-true park is free and has already been visited by millions of people. The question is, what do you think?