KinoKultura: Issue 47 (2015)

Didor: The Main Film Forum for Central Asian Cinema

By Gulnara Abikeyeva, Almaty

It so happened that the film festival Didor, which is held biannually in Dushanbe, this year has become the main film festival of the region. Here are the facts: at Eurasia IFF in Almaty, no Central Asian program was presented; the Golden Gepard in Tashkent was not held at all; the Kyrgyz Kinostan is held biannually and its turn comes next year. So only Didor remained for 2014, and the festival’s art director Sadullo Rakhimov, as always, collected a remarkable selection of films for the competition, presenting the key films of Central Asia—but not only.

tasfiyaIn the center stood Tajikistan with the film Tasfiya by Sharofat Arabova; then came a circle consisting of Uzbekistan with 40 Days of Silence (Chilla) by Saodat Ismailova; Kyrgyzstan with The Move (Pereezd) by Marat Sarulu, and Kazakhstan with Shelter (Kurko) by Kenzhebek Shaikakov. Furthermore, there came a circle with the Farsi-speaking neighbors: Iran with Fish & Cat (Mahi Va Gorbeh, 2013) by Shahram Mokri; and Afghanistan with Flying without Wings (Polet bez kryl’ev, Afghanistan/Russia) by Homayun Morowat. The next circle comprised the Caucasus: Suren Babayan’s The Splinter from Armenia, Black&White Nights (Ağ—qara gecələr, 2013) by Ayaz Salayev from Azerbaijan and Corn Island (Simindis kundzuli) by George Ovashvili from Georgia. Russia, traditionally represented at Didor only with films that are thematically connected to Central Asia, participated with Aleksandr Kott’s The Test (Ispytanie) about the first nuclear explosion in Kazakhstan in 1949. Only ten films were selected, but they reflected accurately the pulse of the time and the cinema of the neighboring countries.

Nosir Saidov’s The Teacher, Tajikistan
At the opening ceremony of the festival the new Tajik film The Teacher was screened. It is stronger than the competition film Tasfiya, a parable about the love of vagrant actors, but the organizers decided to show thumbs up to the young female director Sharofat Arabova. Besides, Nosir Saidov is the deputy director of Didor, and it would not have been correct to include the film in the competition.

The story goes like this: father and son live in a kishlak; they are both teachers. The father is old and cannot walk any more, while the son works at the school. He has to run between all the four classes of the elementary school, because there is no other teacher. The old man feels death coming, and even asks the son to dig a grave for him ahead of time, which causes indignation among the fellow villagers. The only thing that keeps him alive is the older son who, seven years ago, left for Moscow to earn a living. Every day the old man awaits his return, and really: the son makes his way home, but he reaches the kishlak only when the father has already died.

tasfiyaThe film contains some strong possible storylines: the story about a family of teachers across generations, who have actually given knowledge to all the people in the kishlak, from the old to the young; it is also the story of a worthy death, when during his last days the old man, maybe paying with his life, tries to settle the family business. That was, by the way, also the topic another Tajik film, The Angel on the Right (Fararishtay Kifti Rost, 2002) by Djamshed Usmonov. It is also the story of two brothers, where one bears the heavy burden of caring for the sick father, while the other leaves for a better life and ends up in prison. On the whole this is the story of a country, where women live without men because the men have left to make money elsewhere. The men are lonely, because they are constrained by tradition and circumstance. But sadly, the film shifts its emphases and therefore none of the possible story-lines is traced through to the end. There is atmosphere, mood, and color, but no concise message.

Saodat Ismailova’s 40 Days of Silence, Uzbekistan
The film’s rhythm is almost meditative and the images bewitching. The film begins with a long take, almost in darkness, when one person calms another and says that, if you wish to take the chilla (a vow of 40 days of silence), then do it. Then we see the young girl Bibicha who has come to the house of her grandmother to pass through the chilla. Here is the life of four women: the grandmother Saodat, the aunt Hamida who calmed the girl, Bibicha, and the little girl Sharifa as the forty days unfold on the screen. It is surprising that, apparently, nothing happens in the film, but the viewer is filled with such emotion and penetration into the life of these people that feelings overflow: compassion, protest, and pain.

chillaIsmailova seems to have found her own way of building a narration, which lies somewhere between contemporary visual arts and cinema. The kind of video-art that gets exhibited in the small circles of various art biennials forces us to meditate in order to get through to the essence of an image. This art appeals not to the consciousness, but to emotions. Ismailova has ventured into a big experiment: she has refused a linear story, but tried to tell at once about the destiny of four women from different generations. Bibicha has most likely experienced violence, therefore she has escaped from the home and decided to take the vow for purification. The story of Hamida also gradually emerges in the film: she has given birth to her daughter Sharifa out of wedlock and left for the city, leaving her mother in charge of the child. In the city her life has not worked out either, and she returns to the kishlak without knowing how to move on. The grandmother Saodat invites the mullah to perform the official ceremony of Sharifa’s adoption, making Hamida her mother. The story of grandmother Saodat is indirectly told through letters read on the radio: her husband died at the front, and she has been married several times. Willy-nilly you begin to think about the eight-year-old Sharifa: is the same fate awaiting her that has struck the other women of this family—to be raped or violently married? Therefore the ending is rather tragic: Bibicha freezes, having been purified through silence, blood and death.

Kenzhebek Shaikakov’s The Shelter, Kazakhstan
A policeman “hands over” a young man, alleged to have stolen hens from someone in the settlement, to work for the summer as a shepherd for the policeman’s friend. Of course, this is a strange fact, but it is not accentuated; nor is the fact that this policeman’s friend also has other people working for him on the same basis. On the pasture, in a tent or shelter (kurko), located on the invisible border between two states, the young man gets acquainted with a Kyrgyz girl-shepherd. Every day they spend time together over meals and conversations, gradually falling in love with each other. But this film is not about darlings and paradise in a tent. It is a film about a summer during which they practically create a home in this tent where they are truly happy and free. Sadly, when rendering the plot in words, it acquires excessive pathos or a sense of platitude. Shaikakov’s film is filled with ease and grace, humor and happiness— because the heroes are close to the people. When in the finale the Kyrgyz song “Qızıl örük” sounds, one wants to break into a dance right in the auditorium. Also the professionalism of the film is impressive: precise shots, patches of colors, and excellent acting—but all this need not be mentioned: what matters is the story of how young people practically create a family, but cannot sustain their happiness. The film is made in the spirit of the films of Serik Aprymov, and it was liked by the Tajik spectators; therefore it received the diploma of the Society of Friendship of Tajikistan.

Marat Sarulu’s The Move, Kyrgyzstan
pereezd This is one of the slowest films by Marat Sarulu, whose plot can be told in two sentences: a grandfather lives with his granddaughter in an aul by the river, while his daughter lives in the city. She asks the old man to sell his house and move to the city. When they arrive in the city, it emerges that they have no place to stay other than a cold carriage. The film is not so much about the move, but about the loss of human happiness and harmony in the world. This theme emerged already in Sarulu’s short Mandala (1999), when the daughter comes from the city to her mother in the aul to cure her son of his drug addiction. Here, on the contrary, the daughter draws her father to the city, but nobody gets any happier. The final frame of the film, when the five-year-old granddaughter stands in a wasteland amidst new buildings where there is nothing except for household waste, is a metaphor for our life. Surprisingly, the films of Sarulu and Ismailova are similar in their meditative and contemplative manner, but also in their emotional engagement. They do not simply tell a story, but they force us to plunge into the plot and feel the event with our own skin.

The Afghan Program
There is probably no point in the world where the cinema of Afghanistan would be so widely represented as Dushanbe’s Didor. The Afghan program has the power to change our attitude to a country which is largely seen through a prism of negative news.

The competition film Flying without Wings by Homayun Morowat tells about a young Afghan woman who lives in Europe and makes documentaries. The film begins with a selection of tremendous newsreels, which show that in the 1960s Afghan women did not wear a yashmak. Moreover, in 1961 a law was passed that prohibited civil servants to wear the paranja. But the film is not about that. The film’s heroine goes to Moscow to make a documentary film about the first Afghan cosmonaut. Honestly, I wondered whether there was such a man: indeed, in 1988 Mohmand Abdul Ahad travelled into space with a team of Soviet cosmonauts. Maybe the film is not perfect, but it changes our attitude to Afghanistan.

pereezdThis is also the case for the program of Afghan shorts. There were films about the inhabitants of kishlaks, but also about city dwellers. For example, the film Winter Night by Amrullah Ahmadijan tells about a young man waking up. Three times he dreams that he has already gotten up, washed, had breakfast, and gone out onto the street, only to find that the car does not start and he has to walk to work. Every time the details of his awakening are shot from different angles, and each time the ending is different: either a biker snatches his briefcase, or he is accused of theft, or he safely gets to work. Such a film could be shot anywhere. It is a neat coursework exercise fulfilling a range of formal tasks.

The Historical Dimension
This year, Didor started with the documentary Kamil, devoted to the 110th anniversary of Kamil Yarmatov. The film’s director Safarbek Soliev provided an interesting narrative about the career of one of the first national staff of Central Asian cinema, who received his education at the Film Institute VGIK in Moscow and participated in the development of both Tajik and Uzbek cinema. The festival showed his first film, The Emigrant (1934) and The Poem of Two Hearts (Poema dvukh serdets, 1966). Yarmatov made his key films in Uzbekistan: Alisher Navoi (1947), Avicenna (1956), Storm over Asia (Buria nad Aziei, 1964), Horsemen of the Revolution (Vsadniki revoliutsii, 1968) and others—a total of 16 films. Moreover, since 1957 he headed the Uzbek film studio, and in 1979 Uzbekfilm was named after Yarmatov. Since 2007 this part of the name has disappeared and Uzbekfilm no longer carries the name of its master-director.

Also this year’s festival showed three unique films of the early Soviet era, which were presented by the Russian film scholar Sergei Kapterev. These are the films Roof of the World: Pamir (Krysha mira, 1928) about Tajikistan; Heart of Asia: Afghanistan (Serdtse Azii, 1929) and The Country of Lion and Sun: Persia (Strana l’va i solntsa, 1935). Vladimir Erofeev’s films were considered lost, but several years ago Sergei Kapterev, together with Nikolai Izvolov, found them in the National Film Archive in Prague, Czech Republic. They were presented at several archive festivals, but Didor hosted their premiere in the region. And what attention the Afghans, Iranians and Tajiks paid to these pictures! The festival immediately acquired historical depth, that, however, Didor does any more for the first time.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Gulnara Abikeyeva
Almaty, Kazakhstan

The Awards

The festival has three jury prizes:

Prize of the United Nations for the reflection of ideas of humanism: Sadullo Rakhimov

Gulnara Abikeyeva © 2015

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Updated: 27 Dec 14