KinoKultura: Issue 24 (2009)

Central Asian Documentary Films of the Soviet Era as a Factor in the Formation of National Identity

By Gulnara Abikeeva (Almaty)

Before turning to our central question—the way that documentary film contributed to the formation of national identity in Soviet Central Asia—we should briefly consider a very basic question: what are the constituents of national identity in the first place? The enormous secondary literature on the subject gives various answers, among which one might list:

It may well be supposed that in actuality, many more constituents of national identity could be identified. However, for the sake of convenience, here I shall address myself exclusively to the five areas mentioned above: history, geography, language, culture, and myth. In a sense, of course, myths might be understood as part of the general area of “culture,” but their role in the formation of national identity is so enormous that it deserves to be treated separately.

In the present paper, I shall consider when and how the directors of Central Asian documentary films addressed and identified these five constituents of identity most fully, and in the most interesting way. But first I shall briefly outline the general political and cultural background that shaped the emergence of these documentaries in the first place.

The Soviet Propaganda School
From the time when the first Soviet documentaries were made in the 1920s to the Khrushchev Thaw of the early 1960s, Central Asian documentaries were overwhelmingly products of the agitation and propaganda movement. As Liudmila Dzhulai writes, “In the 1930s, the Soviet cinema was radically reshaped in the same way as the state itself was. The documentary film-maker was regarded as a subordinate and beneficiary of the state who was required to reflect the hierarchy of topics, heroes current at the time, which itself faithfully replicated the political ideals of Stalinist socialism” (Dzhulai 15).

Lenin’s famous claim that “of all the arts, the most important for us is the cinema” was, of course, based on appreciation of the movies’ potential as an instrument of propaganda, and not on admiration for the cinema as an art form. It was no accident that by the end of the 1920s, almost all the Soviet republics had acquired their own film studios and started to make propaganda documentaries. In Uzbekistan, the first such documentaries began being produced as early as 1923-24: they included Turkestan, Silk Production in Turkestan (Turkestanskoe shelkovodstvo; DoP A. Lembert), and Round Central Asia (Po srednei Azii, DoP G. Giber). In Kazakhstan, they go back to 1925 with The Fifth Anniversary of the Kazakh SSR (Piataia godovshchina Kazakhskoi SSR, DoP Ia. Topchan), and in Tajikistan and Turkenistan to 1929 with The Arrival of the First Train in Dushanbe (Pribytie pervogo poezda v Dushanbe, DoP V. Kuzin, N. Gezulin, and A. Shevich) and Round Turkmenia and Bukhara with a Movie Camera (Po Turkmenii i Bukhare s kinoapparatom, DoP I. Loziev), White Gold (Beloe zoloto, directed by A. Vladychuk). In Kirgizia, the arrival of such films was rather later – the first issue of the newsreel series Soviet Kirgizia came out only in 1943. Against the background of such standard propaganda films of the day, two documentaries shot in Central Asia stood out: Turksib [The Turkestan-Siberia Railway] (1929), directed by V. Turin and Three Songs about Lenin (Tri pesni o Lenine, dir. Dziga Vertov, 1930). These films are virtuoso illustrations of the propaganda approach to representing the lives of the Central Asian republics.  

These films were not “documentaries” in the sense that they reflected reality, but essentially feature films constructed from individual documentary frames. A good example is the scenes showing the start of construction of the Turksib railway in the film of that name. First comes the intertitle: “The Steppe is Sleeping”—and we duly see the faces of people who are, indeed, peacefully asleep. This is followed by the barking of dogs, and then we see a lorry approaching the aul, out of which the first workers due to start building the line arrive, and people come rushing out of their yurts. It doesn’t take much intelligence to realise that the entire scene, as shown in the final film, is a set-up created by the film-makers. Another comparable scene shows people collecting their yurts and loading these on to pack animals, and leaving in a small caravan. Such a scene is entirely realistic in itself, but the destination of the nomads would have been China (whither many of them migrated at this period), or simply their next halting site. In the film, however, they are shown arriving to greet the approach of the first train. Editorial manipulations of this kind were absolutely routine, and were the standard method of creating revolutionary propaganda at this time. The two great masters—Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov—had their films distributed in hundreds of copies and their propaganda representations of the October Revolution, using clips from documentary material were very influential. It is fair to say that in time their mythic representations of the event simply elided what had actually happened.

In the same way, Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin gave the world a definitive representation of what women’s lives in Central Asia were like. The first Song hymns one of the celebrated propaganda victories of Soviet power: supposedly, by the start of the 1930s, women had cast off their veils. As a matter of fact, these went on being worn in many places for almost another two decades. But the man point of interest lies elsewhere: in how Vertov manipulates his documentary material to achieve his ideological ends. In the opening sequence, we see a women from Khiva against a background of the famous local architecture. She is in a completely enveloping veil (burqa, known in Uzbekistan as a paranja). A few frames later, we see work on the railway line and we are shown a Turkmen woman; in her case only the lower part of her face is covered. This was in fact the local tradition in any case. Finally, we see footage of a Kazakh woman, her face completely uncovered – but Kazakhs never wore the paranja in the first place. The end of this sequence shows Kazakh women picking tea and wearing only headscarves.  By simplistically intercutting footage of women from a range of different countries and cultural traditions as though a chronological sequence were at stake, Vertov creates a myth: “The Removal of the Paranja”. It was essential to the propaganda aims of the Soviet state that the “emancipation of the women of the East” be shown, and Soviet documentary makers duly obliged.

At the same time, these two films—Turksib and Three Songs of Lenin—were the best examples of the early Soviet documentary about Central Asia, cinematographically speaking: many other films amounted to nothing more than ideological hack-work.  Whichever way, the documentary cinema of the 1930s amounted to a chronicle of ‘the victories of socialism’ and was a powerful weapon in the struggle to legitimate Soviet power in the Central Asian republics.

The canons established in the 1920s and 1930s were to dominate documentary film production for the best part of another two decades. In the 1940s, when Mosfilm, Lenfilm and the Dovzhenko Studio in Kiev were all evacuated to Central Asia, documentary cinema was also employed exclusively to propaganda ends, once again using real-life clips (in this case from cameramen at the Front) as the basis for its ideologised narratives; films by such leading directors as Vertov, Roman Karmen and others set out a highly specific version of the events of the war. In the 1950s—regarded as a “film-anaemic” decade (there were fewer films made than in the 1930s), the work produced continued to reflect the established propaganda goals.

The Kyrgyz miracle of the Thaw
The first real flowering of national documentary cinemas (as of feature films in Central Asia) took place only in the 1960s, during the Thaw. Apart from the political liberalisation that overtook the entire Soviet Union at this period, the reasons for this included factors specific to the art form and region. The Thaw films made in Russia in the late 1950s brought a breath of fresh air to cinematography throughout the USSR, and by now the Central Asian countries all had their own cohort of professional film-makers—directors, script-writers, cameramen—who had graduated from the State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow.

It was above all Kyrgyz film-makers who did outstanding work in which the search for national identity played a major role, and created what became known as “the Kyrgyz miracle.” Almost all the directors (for instance, Melis Ubukeev, Tolomush Okeev, Bolotbek Shamshiev) had first made their reputations with feature films before turning to documentaries, in which the constituents of national identity—history, geography, language, culture, and myth—were explored in depth.

manaschiIn his twenty-minute short documentary Manaschi (1965), Shamshiev created an impressively powerful and profound exploration of the roots of Kyrgyz spiritual and intellectual identity. The film focused on the Kyrgyz national epic, Manas, and its traditional tellers, the manaschi. The performances of one of the leading manaschi, Sayakbai Karalaev, are used as a prism for Kyrgyz history and as a way of presenting its main mythic heroes.

The film may be divided into four parts of unequal length, which might tentatively be assigned the titles, “What is a Manaschi?,” “The Year 1916,” “Song of Semetei,” and “The Manaschi as a Vessel of Myth.” “What is a Manaschi?” gives the answer that this is someone who holds in his memory the great Kyrgyz epic, the Manas, and narrates the heroic past of his people. The precise form of the narration is shown to depend on a particular manaschi’s skill as a performer and improviser. 1916 was the year of major uprisings against Tsarist power organised by the Kyrgyz movement for national liberation. At the time, Sayakbai Karalaev was twenty years old, and he was not only a witness to these events, but also participated in them. When he remembered the history of that time, he would raise parallels with the events in the Manas epic. For  Bolotbek Shamshiev, 1916 is to be understood as the date when the Kyrgyz national consciousness came into being.

“Song of Semetei”is to my mind the central, and certainly the most impressive, segment of the film. It is a long sequence showing the reactions of the audience to a performance by Karalaev, as he is narrating the passage about Semetei, the son of Manas, who had become the symbol of Kyrgyz renaissance and unity. A deeply moving panorama shows us the faces of the old men as they watch, then we see a teenage boy sitting on a horse who is totally absorbed in what Karalaev is saying. A mother is breast-feeding her baby. Hundreds of people are sitting on the tops of mounds nearby listening to the manaschi. At the exact point when the performer reaches the culminating scene—the triumph of Manas’s horse Taituru at the races—rain begins to fall, but no-one moves. Everyone is listening to the epic: “And Semetei had his eyes opened. He recognised the name of his father, Manas. And Semetei had his eyes opened. And he began to call himself a Kyrgyz.” Shamshiev shows the moment as one of mythic rebirth for the Kyrgyz people.

In the final part of the film, “The Manaschi as a Vessel of Myth,” even Karalaev’s ordinary life is given a mythic tone: he is seen riding out to hunt with a berkut (traditional lariat) in his hands. As a finale come the film’s clinching words: “The past–the akyn [bard] lives in the song. The glory of the people lives in the akyn.” Thus, in this film Shamshiev managed to interweave several different themes and layers that were crucial to the rise of Kyrgyz national consciousness: the heroic past in the mythologised vision of the Kyrgyz, the spiritual culture of the Kyrgyz, and an inspired portrait of a key representative of Kyrgyz culture. 

horsesA quite different approach was adopted in Tolomush Okeev’s There are Horses (Eto loshadi, 1965), which sites national identity in geography, the natural world, landscape and culture. The director well captured the spirit of Kyrgyz nomadism: the beauty of the galloping horses, the natural unity of man and nature. This is shown, for instance, in the scenes where the herdsman is helping a mare with her newborn foal, or breaking in young horses, or where he blends into one with his mount in a sequence showing a horse-race. The film has no words, but the culture and daily life represented are easy to understand without them.

It has been suggested that this film was made as a sketch for the feature, The Sky of Our Childhood (Nebo nashego detstvo, 1966) and that seems perfectly plausible, since in both films the problem of freedom and unfreedom is raised in terms of the imagery. The horses galloping freely stand for liberty, while a lorry of horses being taken to the abattoir stands in dramatic contrast. The latter sequence also shows a man in a khalat who is terrified of the horse he is holding and stands some distance away from it, and who then kills the animal in cold blood as if punishing it for his own fear. The entire pen of animals at the abattoir is presented like a prison: it’s dark, there are long narrow corridors, the animals are struck by jets of water. The final sequence of the film, showing horses surging past and herdsmen shouting on their backs seems like a call to escape the iron fetters of surrounding reality. (Similarly, in The Sky of Our Childhood, the horses bolt headlong as the workers constructing the railway line—Russian workers who have arrived in Kyrgyz lands without being invited—create a series of explosions with dynamite. Here the emergence of national identity is also seen in terms of a struggle with the Russian colonisers.)

As noted earlier, Kyrgyz cinema began later than the other cinemas of Central Asia; the 1960s was essentially the time when the first generation of local directors, including Shamshiev and Okeev, but also Ubukeev, Gennadii Bazarov and others, came to the fore and began making conscious efforts to shape an image of the Kyrgyz national cosmos, returning to the roots of their culture and to its central heroes. The feature films of the day had turned the actress Baken Kadykeeva into the symbol of Kyrgyz womanhood, of the mother, while the actor Suimenkul Chokmorov became the personification of the strong man, the warrior.  However, it was above all documentary cinema that emphasised the historical unity of the Kyrgyz people and represented their historical and cultural heroes. In the 1960s, the visual cultural codes of the culture were established.

What does the Motherland start with?
lullabyThese words from a well-known Soviet song are highly significant. The answer to the question, “With pictures in your school alphabet book”,sets out pretty well all the constituents of national identity that interest us here. The first thing to be mentioned is the alphabet book (bukvar’) i.e. the shared national language. Once the non-Russian Soviet republics had acquired independence, the rebirth of the national language became a crucial political objective.

“With good, faithful comrades living in the yard next door”—here the idea of “the yard next door” is crucial, emphasising the territorial unity of the nation.
“Or maybe it begins with the song that our mother used to sing”—the “song that our mother used to sing” raises the idea of ethnic and cultural codes, traditions, customs, not to speak of language once more.  
“And with that country road whose end is not in sight”—here “the road” is the starting point of the paradigm: Our Own / The Other.

The other lines in the song, on the other hand are purely ‘Soviet’ in character. For instance, “But maybe it begins with the clink of the wheels in the train”points to the central importance of the railway, with its links to the themes of construction and displacement, as an archetype of Soviet identity, while “The oath that you swore to Her in your heart back then, in the days you were young”, obviously, refers to the rituals of swearing fidelity to the Komsomol, the Party, the Revolution, and so on.

But here I intend to concentrate on just one of the points mentioned by the song—the “mother’s song”, i.e. the lullaby, the tune and words of which are fundamental to the formation of a person’s national identity.

It is no accident that Lullaby (Kolybel’naia, 1966) was precisely the title given by the Tajik director, Davlat Khudonazarov, to the film that became a point of reference for the whole Tajik documentary cinema. The film begins by addressing a child who is not yet born. “Pamir. Here you are, your motherland, your motherland, dear child. Listen and I’ll tell you about your kishlak.” There follow documentary clips from the life of an ordinary mountain village, but shot with such care and tenderness and love for the people there and their customs. The camera focuses now on the hands of people who spend their lives doing manual work, now on the natural landscapes. Then comes the culminating moment: the festival for the birth of the child. The voice-over comments: “It’s a shame that you won’t remember this day, dear child!”Indeed it is, given that the ritual procession of women ringing bells and the whirling dance of the old man are quite captivatingly beautiful and harmonious. The dance takes up nearly a quarter of the film. Maybe this is the reason why the spectator starts to feel a kind of magic, almost shamanistic, force emanating from the dance, as it is assigned ritual force, the force of a signifier. Now the festival is over and the mother is rocking the cradle. At the end, once again are heard the words exhorting the baby not to forget his motherland. The film is extremely simple, but the keywords that resonate throughout—“Motherland,” “mother,” “your people,” “the mill,” “the traditions of our forefathers,” “your dear native kishlak,” and so on— make it express a deep national feeling. Whether because of the power of the film’s message, or because of the director’s obvious brilliance, it ran into problems with the censorship. The scenes showing the little mountain fields being hand-ploughed were at the centre of the fuss: the director was told that he must replace the plough with a tractor. However, Khudonazarov refused to do this, and the film was duly shelved. At the same time, this film clearly has the status of a manifesto of Tajik national documentary.

wellFor his part, Sapar Mollaniyazov might be described as the founding father of Turkmen national cinema. His films The Well (Kolodets, 1972), The Cornelian (Serdolik), The Herdsman’s Friend (Drug chabana) and others portray the traditions and customs of his people. He uses footage of everyday life to portray the unity of the Tajik culture and way of life, the unity of man and nature. Mollaniyazov’s documentaries, like the feature films of Khodzhakuli Narliev, could be termed a visual encyclopaedia of the Turkmen people. In the films of these directors, we also see the representation of national identity in terms of the key constituents of history, landscape, language, culture, and myth.

In The Well, Mollaniyazov portrays an unusual and honourable profession—the water-diviner and builder of wells. In the desert territory, since time immemorial people have relied since time immemorial on small, almost invisible phenomena—a few blades of green grass, a change in the sound of sand underfoot, a passing shred of cloud—to determine where water might be found. A man like this is the hero of the film. The film contains certain ironies, as when the sound-track gives us slogans coming out of the radio—“We Will Fulfil Our Socialist Duties in a Worthy Manner!” or “We Will Fulfil the Resolutions of the 25th Congress of the Communist Party!”—while we see an old Turkmen man making a dish popular since ancient times, a kind of pie baked in a hot stove. What Five-Year Plans?, What “Socialist duties,” when in Turkmenia they still divine water and build wells just as they used to centuries ago? 

Liliana Mal’kova, an expert on the documentary film, considers that “it was only in the 1980s that slogans off posters and hymns to the Party and the government to the Soviets and the Soviet people, the army, the police force, the trade unions etc., of the kind that had been included in films from the 1920s onwards, and the impact of which had not changed at all in successive decades, began to be the subject of ideological re-evaluation, becoming the target of satire in documentary films” (Mal’kova 152). But The Well makes it clear that this process began significantly earlier than the 1980s. Here, the director emphasises how remote Turkmenia is from Moscow, and how much of the traditional way of life has survived. The way the film is structured is also highly significant. First we are shown the building of a well where everything goes smoothly, and then follows a long sequence, occupying most of the film, in which the diviner makes a mistake in choosing the place where the well is to be built, so that no water is found. This choice of narrative pattern, along with the final sequence, in which the old man is shown retreating into the distance, creates a sense of loss, a sense that the bearers of traditional culture are beginning to vanish for good.

In all, even in the Soviet period, the documentary film-makers of Central Asia created a very large number of films that might be described as ethnographic, or which, at any rate, recorded the daily life and the traditions of folk culture in the region. These films were made by major masters and therefore were bound to foster a sense in the viewing public that their national identity was special and unique. Such films as Khudonazarov’s Lullaby, Mairam Yusupova’s Galla, Shamshiev’s Manaschi and Asankozho Aitykeev’s High Bank, along with Mollaniyazov’s The Well and The Herdsman’s Friend, such films by Uzbek directors as Malik Kayumov’s Come Visit Uzbekistan (Priezzhaite k nam v Uzbekistan) and N. Attaulaeva’s The Teacher (Uchitel’), and the Kazakh films The Secret of the Open Palm (Taina raskrytoi ladoni, dir. O. Abishev) and Pre-Islamic Rituals of the Kazakhs (Domusul’manskie obriady kazakhov, dir. B. Kairbekov), and others, were vital in this regard. Yet at the same time, a sense of antithesis to the mainstream, of protest against the Soviet culture and ideology being forced down people’s throats, was equally important in forming national identities in Central Asia at this period.   

Direct opposition to Soviet power
Here I do not propose to examine films that explicitly opposed themselves to the Soviet system. It was by and large not until the mid- to late 1980s that such films started appearing, under Gorbachev’s perestroika—for instance, the Tajik director Bako Sadykov’s Adonis XIV (1985), the Turkmen director Murad Aliev’s Aura (1987), the Uzbek Aralkum (dir. B. Muzofarov, 1987)and the Kazakh director Vladimir Tyul’kin’s The Lord of the Flies (Povelitel’ mukh, 1990). These films were showered with prizes at international festivals and had an obvious impact on people’s consciousness and on the way that people regarded Soviet power when it was on the wane.

However, in the context of the present paper, it is of more interest to examine a different type of films: one in which the national culture and national mentality were seen as being eroded or replaced by Soviet culture and mentality (which essentially equated to Russian), or conversely, when documentary film makers attempted to defend their national culture from Soviet encroachment.

sandThe Kyrgyz film, Castles on the Sand (Zamki na peske, 1967), co-directed by Yakov Bronshtein and Al’gimantas Vidugiris, is possibly the best-known and most often cited documentary film made in Kyrgyzstan during Soviet times. The reason for this is its remarkably authentic picture of life in the 1960s. Filmed in black-and-white, the sound-track consisting entirely of natural sounds and incidental music, it shows a day in the life of people relaxing at Issyk-Kul’ lake. A brass band is playing down at the beach and snatches of songs very popular at the time are heard; people dance on a yacht, and the holiday atmosphere pervades everything. Most of the holiday-makers are Russians, because Issyk-Kul’, in Soviet times, had the status of a Soviet resort. The hero of the film, however, is a little Kyrgyz boy who builds fantastic castles down on the beach. He is a real artist and creates works that are unparalleled, unique. He works for hours at a time and doesn’t notice his trousers getting wet or time passing, but one thing does disrupt his happy existence: from time to time, a passing wave topples a castle, or a cyclist rushing by goes straight over the top.

castlesAt this point, the film acquires a different momentum: as you watch the last third, you realise that the whole point is the confrontation between authentic Kyrgyz culture, as represented by the small boy, and the implanted, forcibly disseminated Soviet culture represented by the holiday-makers. First, an artist with a portable easel on his back shakes the boy’s hand, greeting him as artist to artist. Then another man arrives and starts lecturing him about how to run his life. Then people come and have their photos taken with the boy’s castles in the background. In other words, people keep poking their noses into his life’s work. The boy deals with one “saboteur” who keeps riding over on his bicycle by digging a big pit in the sand, so that the cyclist falls in, much to the boy’s delight. But when crowds of people arrive and start building models of seals, people, etc. on the boy’s patch, his castles are all destroyed. The film opens with images of the boy’s beaming face, but at the end he is shown with his back turned, standing next to his demolished castles.

This film came to be very widely known and was awarded the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Cracow in 1968. It did the Kyrgyz proud. At the same time, it would seem that the boy with the sandcastles wasn’t seen at the time as a representative of traditional culture, given that there was nothing Kyrgyz about the castles. No doubt historical events may have made us read a different significance into such films.

sluzhuAnother film, I Serve the Soviet Union (Sluzhu Sovetskomu Soiuzu, 1966), by Ubukeev is relatively little known, even in Kyrgyzstan. As I looked through the list of Kyrgyz documentaries from this period, a paradox leapt out at me: the director, who in 1964 made the brilliant film White Mountains(Belye gori, also known as The Hard Crossing [Trudnaia pereprava]), in which national identity was at the core of things, had suddenly produced a film with such an inescapably ideological title. My suspicions were confirmed by watching I Serve the Soviet Union: the film’s title in no way matches its content, and was no doubt chosen to throw censors off the trail. One would normally expect a film of this kind to be openly patriotic – about the army, the wonders of Soviet tanks, our brave forces going into battle. But while the military theme is present, it is handled quite differently: Ubukeev’s film moves between traditional nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan and Soviet military service in the Baltic Fleet.

The Kyrgyz sailor at the heart of the film dreams of his home yurt, horses, his mountains, the girl he loves —but then comes a harsh voice shouting the command, “As you were!”[1]—and he has to run off and carry out various military orders. “As you were!” sounds like an order with personal meaning as well, returning him to the layer of time that existed before his dream, commanding him to forget, to wipe from his mind the memories of his native land. These are to be effaced by his studies, by square-bashing, by gunfire. The cinematographic handling of the two different cultural spaces is crucial as well. Kirgizia is shown in terms of romanticised photographs of picturesque scenes. Service in the navy is portrayed in the driest possible way, as hard routine work for tough men; there is no poetry there, only barked orders.

If in the previous film that I discussed, Castles in the Sand, we saw cultural identity being washed away, here it is challenged in an aggressive manner, essentially subjected to a prohibition: ‘As you were!’ It is significant that the film-makers chose to shoot Kyrgyz reality in negative, emphasising that this belongs to the sailor’s subconscious. The film has no words: no interviews, no voice-overs, only natural sounds and noises, and the barked commands.  Commentaries are left to the viewer. And once again, I am sure that our interpretation of the film in the here and now is quite different from the way in which it would have been interpreted in the 1960s. Then, it was no doubt read as portraying a sailor’s homesickness and nothing more, but we now see the film as a vehement protest against Soviet militarisation in the broadest sense. The film contains a puzzling case of inter-cutting—at the moment when a rocket is launched from the submarine, the film’s hero remembers his home aul—his girlfriend, his father, the performer of traditional epics—and the rocket appears to head straight for them.  In the Soviet period, film-makers who wanted to voice social criticism had to use Aesopian language to hide their inner meanings under layers of metaphor. Some of these metaphors remain opaque even today, and they need to be carefully decoded, seen in the context of a thorough analysis of the film’s visual text as a whole.

collectionI have been able to cite here only a few of the documentaries made in Central Asia during the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on some cases where the author’s visions of the national cosmos are particularly striking. But there were many more such films, and they played a key role in shaping the national identity of the Central Asian peoples in the late Soviet period. A new DVD collection of Central Asian documentaries is a good way of gaining access to this material.

Since independence, films where national identity is explored have proliferated, and entire genres are now devoted to the subject: ethnographical films about daily life, traditions, and customs; historical films about major events of significance; biographical films about leading figures of history and culture, and so on.

There was a notable upsurge of film-making already in the mid-1990s, immediately after independence arrived. It was exactly in this period, and also during perestroika, when the most interesting documentaries appeared. Then followed important changes, on the technical level—as cinemas shut down, the main outlet for documentaries became the TV channels—and ideological—cinema became the vehicle of the new ideologies that were starting to spread in the countries of Central Asia. But this period requires treatment in a separate study.

Translated by Catriona Kelly


This paper was delivered at the conference on “National Identity in Eurasia I”in Oxford, 22-24 March 2009 and is published here with kind permission of the conference organiser, Professor Catriona Kelly.

The collection of Central Asian Documentary Films includes 70 documentaries from the Soviet period and the period of independence. It was sponsored by the Open Society Institute, and it is available only to institutions of higher education, libraries, and cultural centres specialising in the study of Central Asia. Please contact Andrea Csanadi, Program Manager/Arts & Culture Network Program OSI).


Gulnara Abikeeva


1] The Russian word in the original—Otstavit’!—is translated like this in a military context, but “Leave off!” would capture the force that the word generally has more adequately. [C.K.].

Works Cited

Dzhulai, Liudmila, Dokumental’nyi illiuzion, Moscow: Materik, 2005.

Mal’kova, Liliana, Sovremennost’ kak istoriia: Realizatsiia mifa v dokumental’nom kino Moscow: Materik, 2002.

Gulnara Abikeeva© 2009

Comment on this article via the LJ Forum


Updated: 31 Mar 09