KinoKultura: Issue 37 (2012)

Kyrgyzstan, Nation of Film Festivals

By Gul’bara Tolomushova (Bishkek)

Cinematic life in Bishkek has become noticeably more lively. It’s difficult to keep track of the number of films being released. Enterprising people have discovered a new way to make money: “cinematic fast-food”. The movie theater of the State Historical Museum, which has become the main venue for undemanding viewers, is constantly sold out. On the other hand, it is good to see the amateur productions being overshadowed by professionally made domestic and foreign films that are given gala premieres in the elite movie theaters of the capital. And it is good that the owners of large cinemas are making their theaters available for the best of world and Kyrgyz cinema during the festival period. Festivals give us a unique opportunity to watch, discuss, and evaluate a large number of new, quality films.

Little Kyrgyzstan has become the Central Asian record-holder for the number of film festivals, with five:

I. “Bir Duino – Kyrgyzstan”
Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbaeva gave a speech at the opening of the Fifth “Bir Duino” festival.
In the international competition, the Gran Prix was awarded to Congolese producer Djo Tunda Wa Munga for the almanac-film Congo in Four Acts. In the national competition, the main prize was awarded to Asel’ Zhuraeva for Road to Mecca (produced by the Okeev Kyrgyzfilm Studio, 2011, 20 min. Synopsis: Eighty-year-old Sulaiman Turdubaev, a resident of the village of Alga in the Karamzhai region, has saved money for many years in order to fulfill one of the duties of a Muslim: to complete the Hajj to the holy city of Mecca. He decides to use all of his money to erect a monument to his countrymen who died in the Second World War. Road to Mecca was also selected for the international Cinema du Reel festival, which took place 24 March—5 April 2012).

The thirteen Kyrgyz films included in the national competition were divided into four thematic blocs.

birduinoThe first, “Heroes of Our Time: The Kyrgyz Worldview,” included five films. At the center of each of them was the image of a person with a capital P, someone who is not indifferent to social problems, although none of these characters is omnipotent. All five of these films successfully combine the virtuous with the cinematic. They are of a high artistic standard and treat important life problems.

The second thematic bloc, “The Rights of Children and Youth,” included three films by young directors about the serious life problems of their peers. The screening of the film A Sinful Dream [Porochnaia mechta], about the causes of gambling addiction, coincided with the first demonstration regarding the closure of casinos in Kyrgyzstan.

The third bloc, “Human Rights While Under Pre-Trial Detention,” included just one film, Torture…, which was nonetheless important as the first attempt in our country to make a human rights documentary in its purest form.

The fourth bloc, “Save and Protect,” was devoted to the tragic events in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010. The directors worked in the conflict zone, which allowed them to chronicle the events in Osh in real time. There were also brave efforts by students of the B. Beishenalieva State Film School to analyze the situation in June 2010 there and then. Six months later, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, we see the residents of Osh trying to re-establish their everyday lives, their businesses, and their relationships with one another. The theme of reconciliation reaches its high point in the spring, when people from different ethnicities gather together during the holiday of Nowruz to prepare the sacred dish, sumalak.

On 27 January 2012 the partners of the “Bir Duino” International Festival of Human Rights Documentaries held a meeting in Bishkek. The goal of the meeting was to take stock after the Fifth International “Bir Duino” festival (2011) and to establish priorities for the Sixth, which will take place 24-28 September 2012. “Bir Duino—Kyrgyzstan” is a sister festival to a network of human-rights forums (about 40), centered in Prague, the site of the annual Jeden Svět (One World) International Film Festival. The main funder of the project is the European Union. The festival is organized by the human-rights center Citizens Against Corruption.

II. International Festival of Auteur Cinema
Little Kyrgyzstan established itself as a center for auteur filmmaking long ago, and so it is no accident that the Kyrgyz Fund for the Development of Cinema organizes a festival of auteur films. It is a unique festival, with the format of a non-competitive forum that presents the best recent Central Asian films and films by young directors, as well as films still in production and film projects. The Festival of Auteur Cinema is a laboratory for professional interaction among cinematographers, selected film critics who publish in the European press, global distributors, European producers, program directors of international film festivals, film funds, and film markets. The Festival provides an opportunity to promote films for international distribution; to find financing and partners for films in production and film projects; and to meet and interact with selected film professionals.

The Festival of Auteur Cinema is biennial. The first was held in 2007 in Bishkek and on Lake Issyk-kul. The “Open Doors” program at the 2010 Locarno Film Festival was devoted to Central Asian cinema after the artistic director of that prestigious festival took part in the second Festival of Auteur Cinema in 2009.

nazikAt the third forum, 32 films were shown and eight projects were presented. Several creative groups and companies reported on the work done at the festival. Several films stood out, for example Marat Sarulu’s latest work, Ene. The festival participants were greatly impressed by the screening of a rough cut of Erkin Saliev’s long-awaited Princess Nazik, which is now being edited. The heroine of the film, seven-year-old Aidai, invents her own fairy-tale world in drawings. She sees herself as Princess Nazik, who is doted upon by her father, Khan Iaglakar, a character from fairy tales. In reality, she is the only one in the village who does not know her father. Her mother, Aizhan, keeps the girl’s father’s identity a secret. The harsh reality that surrounds Aidai doesn’t look anything like the world she draws. The collapse of the Soviet empire left this remote mountain region without work, and everyone is involved in illegal business.

Among the projects presented were Aigul’ Bakanova’s Saadat, Marat Sarulu’s Ashes [Pepel], Marat Alykulov’s Lenin, Artyk Suiundukov’s Khan Tengri, Akmal’ Khasanov’s A Knock on a Closed Door [Stuk v zakrytuiu dver’] (Tajikistan), Ernest Abdyzhaparov’s My Little Poplar Tree in a Red Scarf [Moi Topolek v krasnoi kosynke], and Darezhan Omirbaev’s The Student (Kazakhstan). This festival is unique for its emphasis on the future. We find out what films will be shown tomorrow. We find out where Central Asian cinema is headed. Every day of the festival was filled with lively conversations with directors, screenwriters, producers and foreign festival organizers. I noted with pleasure that Kyrgyz directors have learned the art of the pitch. And that means significantly more Kyrgyz films will end up at international film festivals.

III. International Festival “Kyrgyzstan, Nation of Short Films”
A short auteur film of exceptional quality can influence the future development of film aesthetics, as short films can often discover new artistic means and rejuvenate cinematic language. As Japanese film critic Kris Fujiwara said at the Eurasia International Film Festival in 2008: “Short films are made as art, feature films are made as commerce. There are no written rules in short cinema.”

The festival “Kyrgyzstan, Nation of Short Films” seeks to foster dialog among the countries of the CIS, the Baltics and Georgia, to protect their cultural distinctiveness, to join forces to combat immorality, and to strengthen cultural ties among the CIS countries. The festival is organized by the Aitysh Foundation and the Kyrgyz Filmmakers’ Union, with the support of the Intergovernmental Fund for Humanitarian Collaboration, Moscow.

The first was held with great success in December 2011 at the Manas cinema in Bishkek. All four of the multiplex’s theaters were used throughout the festival. The opening and closing ceremonies were held in the Main Theater, and sold out. Aktan Arym Kubat’s 1993 cult film The Swing [Selkinchek] was screened, and the best films of the festival were shown at the closing ceremony.

Kyrgyz shorts were shown in the Green Theater, foreign films in the Blue theater, and a mixed program in the Red Theater. The 25 competition films were divided into six thematic blocs. The total running length of each bloc was equal to the length of one feature film. Each bloc was shown four times! An absolute record! The standard festival practice is to show films twice, three times at most; no festival in the world shows the same film four times. All three of the smaller theaters of the Manas were constantly full, and the audience members were allowed to vote by secret ballot to award the Audience Favorite prizes in the domestic and international competitions. At the closing ceremony it was announced that the Kyrgyz winner, with 98 votes, was the film Saz by Busurman Odurakaev, which tells the story of a beautiful, noble and strong stallion who is stuck in a quagmire and mobilizes all of his inner resources to escape. (Looking ahead, we’ll note that Odurkaev also received the Best Director Prize from the tough international jury).

izoldaThe Ukrainian film Isol’da, by Katerina Kucher, a graduate of the Karpenko-Karyi Theatrical Institute in Kyiv, was the audience favorite in the international program, with 90 votes. It is the story of a solitary, emotionally stunted elderly woman to whom fate gives a new chance for spiritual rehabilitation. Isol’da was shot in 35mm. I asked Katerina whether all film students shoot on film stock. She replied, “Students from the second year (and sometimes the first) have the opportunity to shoot on film, the younger students on black and white, the older students on color.” There was one more film at the festival shot on 35mm: Flying High [Letat’ vysoko] by the Tajik woman Sharofat Arabova, who studies at the film school in the Indian city of Poona. It seems that students at the two State Film Schools in India are able to shoot on film. The international jury decided to acknowledge Arabova’s interesting artistic techniques with a Special Certificate of Achievement.

Recipients of Special Jury Prizes included the Georgian Iurii Chirkovskii (Who Thought All This Up [Kto vse pridumal]) and the Kyrgyz Tynchtyk Akimaliev (Unfinished Dreams [Neokonchennye sny]). The Estonian director Arko Okk, creator of the fascinating Hope 3D [Nadezhda 3D], which actually can be watched in 3D, was named Best Director. Other winners included Uzbek Umid Khamdamov’s film Nazar (in which the story is told exclusively with images, as the characters barely talk), and our Kyrgyz compatriots Venera Dzhamankulova (Kairat) and Zhumanazar Koichubekov (Cardiogram). The prize for Best Film was awarded to Aigul Bakanova (Song of the Rain [Pesn’ dozhdia]) in the national competition and Alizhan Nasirov (Water [Voda]) in the international competition.

The international jury was chaired by director Marat Sarulu and included Georgian director Georgii Ovashvili, Latvian producer Vasilii Mel’nikov, Russian film scholar Sergei Anashkin, and Kazakh film scholar Gulzhan Nauryzbekova.

IV. Festival of student films from Ernest Abdyzhaparov’s master-class
Ernest Abdyzhaparov has run his festival annually since 2008, when the Gran Prix was awarded to Daniiar Abdykerimov for his short film Ata. El’nura Osmonalieva won the Best Director prize for her acted film Shamchyrak. In 2010 El’nura was awarded the Gran Prix for the documentary film Diamond [Almaz]. Abdykerimov triumphed in 2011, winning an unheard of number of prizes for two films that were popular among Kyrgyz youth: How to Marry Goo Jun Pyo? and The Girl in Red 2.

how to marry goo jun pyoHow to Marry Goo Jun Pyo? marked a new stage in the development of Kyrgyz cinema. Before, our main staple was art-house cinema. Now we can note with a certain amount of optimism that we are capable of making quality genre films for the domestic mass audience. The budget of How to Marry Goo Jun Pyo? was $20,000, or about one million som. Abdykerimov used his digital camera to make a high quality, optimistic film in Russian for young audiences. He came up with a simple but believable plot based on how crazy Kyrgyz girls are about the hero of the South Korean TV series Boys Over Flowers.

However skeptically our community may view the work of Ernest Abdyzhaparov, who gives a week-long master-class every spring and runs his film festival every October, the results are obvious. His students have flooded the domestic market with cheap B-movies that Kyrgyz young people are happy to watch. In 2011, the young director Aibek Daiyrbekov, a member of Abdyzhaparov’s group, opened his own theater for showing Kyrgyz films, "Kyrgyz kinosu," with 117 seats. Abdyzhaparov held his fourth festival there, and it is now the venue for all premieres of genre films by Ernest’s students.

V. The Republic Festival “My Kyrgyzstan”
This festival is a competition of works not only by filmmakers, but also representatives of television companies. The festival promotes the development and exposure of positive creative visions. The organizers gathered well-known masters and novice artists in one place. It is organized by the Door Media Foundation.

The organizers held two public events to attract Bishkek residents to the festival. On 14 January, in the southern gates region, there was a show featuring sparklers. Each visitor was given a sparkler, and was supposed to make a picture on the theme “my Kyrgyzstan.” On 15 January, at the San-City Ice Rink, there was a show featuring figure skaters, hockey players, and actors from the pantomime theater. In the finale, festival participants erected snow castles.

After that the usual festival routine began: screenings of the films in the competition program at the Manas Cinema. There were master-classes given by well-known filmmakers and journalists, including NTV correspondent Pavel Selin (Moscow), cameraman Khasan Kydyraliev, director Furkat Tursunov, and photographer Vladislav Ushakov.

The culmination of the forum was the awards ceremony, which took place on 20 January 2011 in the Hotel Zhannat. Asel’ Zhuraeva received the prize for Best Documentary for her film Cradle of Happiness [Kolybel’ schast’ia], a non-traditional examination of a serious contemporary social problem, abortion. The Best Director prize was awarded posthumously to Erkin Ryspaev for his pointed and timely treatment of a society during a difficult historical period in the film Lessons of History [Uroki istorii]. Best Acted Short was awarded to Kanat Sartov’s Bread, Tea, Toy [Khleb, chai, igrushka] for its humane depiction of the warm and sensitive relationship between a father and son living in the difficult conditions of contemporary Kyrgyz reality. Nurlan Adaev received the Best Informational Subject prize for his energy, professionalism, and mastery in creating an eventful informational subject about an enormous Avalanche [Lavina] on the road from Bishkek to Osh. Kseniia Kiss’ Nikolai Prokudin was named Best Television Short for the director’s careful work with the subject of the film, which allowed her to show the image of a Man with a Big Heart in an ethical way.

The jury decided to encourage some filmmakers whose works were not quite at the level of the prizewinning films, but who nevertheless deserved special recognition. Kseniia Tolkaneva was awarded a Certificate of Honor for her commitment to artistic excellence in the Best Photography category, and Fora Gazieva was recognized for her noble efforts to maintain friendship, peace and creativity during the production of Save and Protect. Talant Dzhumabaev was recognized for his awareness of a timeless truth in the film Cultural Imperative [Kul’turnyi imperativ]: culture does not create itself; people must make an effort to create and protect it. The jury acknowledged the brave attempts by Irina Litviakova to “grasp the ungraspable” in her program The Planetary Eye, and Evgenii Pechurin’s careful research during the production of the program In the Footsteps of Pilgrims, dedicated to the history of Kyrgyzstan.

The youngest participant in the festival was twenty-year-old Zhumanazar Koichubekov, who is persistent in his commitment to joining the ranks of the professionals. His lyrical film sketch Cardiogram is sincere, pure, and naïve, just like its author.

The year 2011 was an absolute success for Kyrgyz filmmakers.

And so, the of a Kyrgyz home for cinema—Kinostan—has begun well. Kyrgyz auteur cinema has made its contribution to the development of Asian and world cinema art. We have also seen the appearance of quality commercial cinema, which is low-budget, but is still attracting viewers to the country’s film theaters.

Translated by Seth Graham

Gul'bara Tolomushova

Gul'bara Tolomushova © 2012

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