Issue 45 (2014)

Ruslan Akun: Herding (Peregon, Kyrgyzstan, 2014)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2014

Children, the Nation’s Support, Or Initiation à la Kyrgyz

peregonAn elder would say: “From birth to the age of five, your son is a khan; from five up to the age of fifteen he is a slave; and once over fifteen, he is your equal.” In his new short fiction film Herding Ruslan Akun shows an initiation—a ceremony that marks the transition of an individual to a new stage of development—in modern Kyrgyzstan. Among the rituals associated with transition, initiation occupies a special place, where the major transition is from childhood (from 6 to 12 years) to adulthood. On the other hand, in Herding literally everything dissolves, disintegrates and disappears in a “ton of dust”—a cumulative image of the lost generation—of useless husbands and fathers. Instead comes a new, young generation, capable of supporting the nation. It is also interesting that in this film the image of the smiling, tender and portly woman and mother symbolizes fertility, satiety, and prosperity.

The plot: a family of sheep-breeders is preparing to take the flock to the summer pasture (jailoo). The father has already taken the mother and equipped her with all the necessary items to set up the jailoo—a yurt with furniture and domestic tools. Now he has returned to the village for the flock and the children. The family has two children: the girl Aidana, aged around nine or ten; and the boy Tynai, aged around eight. Tynai goes into the shed to chase out the sheep and sees his sister trying to embellish her favourite sheep: a magnificent Karakul sheep with large black curls. She ties a ribbon in a bow around the sheep’s neck.

peregonThe herding begins. The father, on horseback, steers the herd. Behind him are the children who have saddled the second horse. And the children are just children, and even if they are only a year apart, the brother wants to appear older; after all, he is a man and he wants to take the reins. Aidana is used to taking the horse within the limits of their local space, and she has no intention of letting him take over. Then the boy shouts at the father’s back: “Daddy, look, she does not give me the reins!” The father approaches the children and makes a decision in favour of the daughter; he demands that the son dismounts and continues the journey on foot. This is the most severe punishment. The girl teases the boy quietly, so the father cannot hear her. The boy shouts again in the father’s back: “Daddy! She is teasing me!” The father comes back and takes the daughter down from the horse and places her on the ground, too. Then he moves on, holding the reins of the second racer. The children go on foot.

peregonUnexpectedly, an old “Moskvich” car with some tipsy passengers appears in their space. Imitating song, they shout some bravura texts, thus frightening the sheep who run in different directions. The most important visitor is the heavy Chortek, who greets the father. Perplexed, the latter replies: “What are you celebrating?” The fat man answers: “The elections tomorrow. And we are carrying out state instructions.” The visitors ask the father to drink with them. The father refuses. They start to press him: “Are you a man or not?” The father gives in. Against the backdrop of the drinking adults, the children play games. The theme is quite unlike in a children’s game: they play husband and wife, who argue after the husband has once again come home drunk. Meanwhile the visitors continue to press the father: “It wouldn’t harm to sacrifice a sheep to attract a lot of voters.” Doomed, the father waves his arm: “Take a sheep!”—“A real man!” the visitors joyfully summarize the decision and take aside the father and Aidana’s favourite Karakul sheep. The stunned children run after the car, shouting “Daddy! Daddy!” The father answers: “Wait for me, I’ll be back soon!”

It gets dark. Aidana looks out for the father, peering through her field-glass. Tynai has become sad. It is frightening and cold, but the children do not lose their spirit.

peregonThe morning comes. Having weighed the situation, the children decide to take the herd on their own. This is a complex process. Managing the flock, you have to constantly be on alert, especially during the crossing of the so-called Devil’s Bridge above the rough mountain river. Tynai goes first over the fragile, dilapidated bridge, leading the flock. Aidana closes the procession. For the eight-year-old boy this forcedly independent herding marks the transition from the world of childhood to the world of adulthood. Later he makes an important intellectual discovery: Tynai realizes that herding the flock as a whole, and the transition across the old bridge in particular, constitutes a significant feat. Henceforth he is a man, who is no longer scared of difficulties and who will not cave in to everyday, trivial problems. It is important to emphasize the wisdom of the elder sister, who makes the right decision in a critical situation: to send the brother first across the bridge.

When the father has declined all responsibility for herding the flock, the children, on the contrary, accept this responsibility. Ruslan Akun said that the theme of the film—the independent herding of the flock by children— came from his personal experience: “Once I was told to just take a stallion across a mountain, a stallion that did not obey anyone.”

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Ruslan Akun was born in Kyrgyzstan in 1984. He graduated from the American University in Central Asia, faculty of mass communications, and from the School of Visual Arts in New York; he also completed the Courses for Young Cinematographers (2009-2011) that were organized in Bishkek. In 2014 he enrolled in a film school in Southern California.
Select filmography: “Salam, New York” (2013, short); “Thanks” (2010, short).

Herding, Kyrgyzstan, 2014
23 minutes
Director, Scriptwriter and Producer: Ruslan Akun
DoP: Talant Urgaziev
Sound: Nurlan Razakulov
Egitor: Eldiyar Madakim
Cast: Annel’ Azamatova, Erjan Turdukojoev
Production: Nomadmen Films

Ruslan Akun: Herding (Peregon, Kyrgyzstan, 2014)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2014

Updated: 06 Jul 14