KinoKultura: Issue 45 (2014)

Interview with Saodat Ismailova: "I don’t see myself as imposing a story..."

By Birgit Beumers (Aberystwyth U)

Birgit Beumers: The project 40 Days of Silence has been in development for a long time. Initially you had more of a story: there was a reason for Bibicha to take the vow of silence. Could you explain your reasons for shifting the attention to a different aspect of the story than what you pitched?

Saodat Ismailova: When going back to the genesis of the story, in the very beginning I was honestly thinking of looking at the girl and what she goes through. I wanted to do something totally experimental and focus on a girl who locks herself up in a room. But when I related the idea to my experience in cinema and to the possibilities I had to make the film happen and I started to write, it had suddenly became something else. There were so many stories about women and the various characters, many of them inspired by my own family stories; many of them followed me and haunted me. I integrated these stories into the script and then structured it accordingly. I did that to make the film happen. The first thing you show in order to convince your funders is the paper, the writing. But when I went into production there was no way to shoot the script as it was.

bibichaAnother reason is that the writing had taken over five years. Basically, when you write a script over such a long time, over five years—even if you are not always working on the scriptwriting—you leave it and come back to it, you transform as a personality and you change the way you see things. It was really quite different to write the script from making the film. This is maybe also related to my documentary background. It was very clear to me that the reality of what you have on location would take over the script. I could never imagine making the grandmother say the things written in the script, or make the other characters do what is written down. I knew from the beginning that this is a text and that is reality, and the two will begin to interact. But during the editing we tried to construct the film in certain ways, and in certain places it was quite annoying to drive the audience into a particular direction. I thought it was much more interesting to leave space for the spectator and lead the audience by sound or atmosphere or emotion, to open the possibilities for interpretation. There are many ways to see the films now: from a basic love story to a personal and intimidating story about a girl becoming a woman and growing up. It offers many different ways of reading, a little bit like poetry or songs. Maybe it is also a question of character: I don’t see myself as imposing a story on the audience and expect them to understand it.

BB: You leave the interpretation open to the audience, but at the same time, as a director, do you not wish to guide the audience so they discover something new. And what is that?

SI: The danger with the film is that it gets so oneiric and so vague that the audience easily gets lost. On the other hand, the challenge is to lead and at the same time not lead the viewer, and that was quite a difficult game, or a difficult task that was achieved through the editing. Of course, there are emotions that return in different forms, but it’s always through the same tunnels.

BB: When making the film, did you shoot it exactly the way you saw it or was there a lot of footage that you filmed and then discarded?

SI: When I was shooting, I did not know how I would weave the different strands together. Of course, I knew what I wanted visually, but I also knew that it would be a huge challenge to weave the story together so the strands cross each other and recur. After the first shooting and editing period, we returned to the location for a reshoot of some sequences that we needed.

BB: In a sense, you can read the film as the story of four women; in another sense, it is the story of one woman’s experience as she goes through her future and her past. You leave a lot of scope to the audience, but by suggesting that there are roots, traditions, and repetitions, you also suggest that there is a good deal of determinism.

SI: I don’t think that Bibicha will experience the same things in the future as her mother, her aunt and her grandmother. Khamida is like her, but she failed with her vow of silence, so Bibicha’s story is a possible evolution of the character. For me it was an exploration: there are lots of windows, so we can try to see how she will develop as a woman and explore the path she will take. I don’t think she will take the path of Bibi Saodat or Khamida, but she will become something different. But besides the possibilities that surround her because of traditions and destinies that repeat themselves, the vow of silence marks a transitions that gives her a certain liberty.

BB: Does the vow make her visualize and play through various options of her life?

SI: Yes, it is a gift of time during which she can experience what could or might happen to her in the future, something you go though in your mind and then avoid.

BB: You mentioned earlier the documentary tradition that you come from. How would you say this experience has shaped your feature debut, and how did it feel to work with actors? What were the negative and positive features of that experience?

chillaSI: I learnt a huge lesson: that you have the magic of the location, the place. My production designer didn’t always understand, and often asked why I did not want this or that top be brought in. We had to change the position of the rooms, but I wanted things to be real, and we also collected things in the village. I believe there is a level of truth when people have a background close to their character: they enrich your script and it becomes something different. In terms of difficulties: maybe this is not a negative side at all. You create respect, and you respect others and wait for them. You know things will fall into shape and wait rather than impose what you want. And that’s a positive thing. It is a more precious way of mastering human relations, managing people not just as a material of your film. It’s creating the life of your film. […] The setting is partly arranged and partly not. I looked at a lot of the houses, but eventually we combined elements of different buildings in a single one. We changed the space. Some items were there, such as the blanket, the beads, or the teapot, but what matters is the emotion you create around those objects. I wish I had had more time to create intimacy with the grandmother, to have her be more open. It was quite intimidating for her to have all the men around, the crew. 

BB: You worked with different cinematographers?

SI: It took a long time to find a cinematographer. I wanted to work with Alisher Khamikhodjaev, who is very talented. But that didn’t work out, so I found an amazing cinematographer from Chile, but then something happened with his schedule and he could not come. My producer said that we had to postpone until the next spring, but I did not want to do that, so we looked around and Benito was available. I knew him, had met him before, and he was very open to follow my vision, which was vital since we had barely any time to prepare.

BB: Thank you for your time.

Berlin 8 February 2014


Birgit Beumers © 2014

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