KinoKultura: Issue 50 (2015)

Kyrgyzstan, a Country not only of Shorts: Arthouse Film Festival 10+ (2015)

By Birgit Beumers

sutak posterAs Gulbara Tolomushova (probably the best promoter of Kyrgyz cinema and an expert that many national film industries can only dream of) used to whisper into my ear over many years: Kyrgyzstan is the country of short films. It was she who invited me for the first time to Bishkek in 2009 to show me (and other jury members) the best student shorts from the region. Later, there was actually a festival called “Kyrgyzstan, Land of Short Films,” organized in 2011 by Sadyk Sher-Niyaz and Temur Birnazarov’s company Aitysh film, and opening traditionally on Chingiz Aitmatov’s birthday. Of course, Aitmatov’s prose played no small role in the history of Kyrgyz cinema, and particularly in the development of a high level of (script)-writing. While this important short film festival is still going, Kyrgyzstan has “grown up”, largely thanks to the promotion of film art through dedicated university education and the support of short film production—and in recent years the industry has produced major feature-length films that have firmly put the country on the map of international festival circuits: Sadyk Sher-Niyaz Kurmanjan Datka (Montreal 2014); Marat Sarulu’s The Move (Tallinn 2014; Rotterdam 2015); Mirlan Abdykalykov’s Heavenly Nomadic (Karlovy Vary 2015); and Dalmira Tilepbergenova’s Under Heaven (Montreal 2015).

Held bi-annually and organized by Altynai Koichumanova, as well as Aktan Arym Kubat, Mirlan Abdykalykov, Gulbara Tolomushova, and Tolondu Toichubaev, this fifth edition of the Arthouse Film Festival 10+ (23-27 August) showcased some of the achievements of Kyrgyz cinema as well as the work of young directors and filmmakers from the region. The festival opened in Bishkek’s Manas Cinema with Mirlan Abdykalykov’s Heavenly Nomadic (Sutak), which had already had its world premiere at the IFF Karlovy Vary in July, and is set for a whole host of international festival, following that world premier and the recent Eurasia IFF in Almaty, where it garnered the main award. Mirlan Abdykalykov, son of filmmaker Aktan Arym Kubat (formerly Abdykalykov), is maybe best known as an actor in Arym Kubat’s early films Selkinchek: The Swing (1993); Beshkempir: The Adopted Son (1998) and Maimyl: The Chimp (2001), where he played the main part—from little boy to teenager to young adult.

safarFrom Bishkek, the festival moved up to Bosteri on Lake Issyk-Kul for three days, where new films from the region were shown to and discussed by a group of producers and film critics, including the producers Denis Vaslin (Rotterdam) and Anna Vilgelmi (Berlin), festival selector Igor Guskov, and the film historians Gulnara Abikeyeva and Darejan Obirbaev from Kazakhstan. The program included new films, such as Jasulan Poshanov’s Toll Bar (Shlagbaum) from Kazakhstan, which had garnered the Best Actor award at Moscow’s IFF; Kenjebek Shaikakov’s The Tent (Kurko), also from Kazakhstan; A House for Mermaids (Dom dlia rusalok) by Yolkin Tuychiev, a not so successful Lithuanian-Uzbek co-production which had already shown in Moscow’ Russian Program; Daler Rakhmatov’s light comedy Airy Safar from Tajikistan; Mansur Vasatti’s serious film The Well from Uzbekistan; and Dalmira Tipelbergenova’s Under Heaven (Pod nebesami) from Kyrgyzstan, already reviewed by the indefatigable Gulbara Tolomushova for KinoKultura—and en route to its Montreal premier.

The program also included a pitching session of new projects, including Tilepbergenova’s new, ambitious project “Secrets of the Silk Road,” to be co-produced with China; Erkin Saliev’s The Ton Shooter; and Saodat Ismailova’s intriguing Barzagh, which she first pitched at Locarno’s Open Doors in 2010, even before making her delicate and complex 40 Days of Silence (Chilla) that premiered in Berlin in 2014.

tentThere were only a few, but very sophisticated short films from the “land of shorts,” which screened at the festival and which all suggest promising starts of emerging new directors. Kymbat Adylbekova, who studies at Manas University, presented The Taxi Driver—a film about a young woman stalked at night and rescued by a kind taxi driver who takes her home. When she goes to thank him (and pay her fare) the next day, she discovers that he has been dead for nine years. The film is shot stylishly as a mysterious tale with elements of a thriller, and as such is a fine genre exercise. Cholponai Borubaeva’s Dust of the Earth (Topurak) is about the old woman Bermet and her husband, whose peaceful existence is turned upside down by the arrival of Bermet’s first husband. Almost without words, Borubaeva shows the woman’s calm as the two men have to come to terms with the facts of life, and of death. Finally, Kenjebek Shailobaev’s The Mill (Mel’nitsa) is another excellent student film from Manas University which reveals the strong and masterful hand of the teacher Artyk Suyundukov. Shalobaev’s film follows the rhythm of an old mill, sets it against paces of everyday life and it’s through the diverging rhythms that he creates a contrast sets into motion the visual juxtaposition between old and new.

If those student films are anything to go by, the next generation of Kyrgyz filmmakers is well on track to make it the land of short and long films. In the meantime, the importance of shorts has been highlighted once again through Elnura Osmonalieva’s short film Seide, which screened at Venice and is reviewed by the masterful pen of—Gulbara Tolomushova.

Birgit Beumers
Aberystwyth University

Birgit Beumers © 2015

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Updated: 07 Oct 15