Despite “unavoidable circumstances,” and frankly they were dramatic—the Confederation of Unions of Filmmakers was kicked out of its home, the Kino Center, which was taken over by outsiders simply because “nobody should have it”; this building, in the center of Moscow, ended up the property of a “group of friends” for whom striptease and a casino are not simply more profitable than cinema, but closer to their own skin, like a shirt—the 9th KinoForum passed surprisingly calmly and successfully. No one was taken aback that the screenings took place in the halls located on Malyi Gnezdnikovskii [the former building of Goskino, the State Committee on Filmmaking; now the administrative center of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema]. All this gives me another opportunity to express our gratitude to the leadership of the Federal Agency for offering us a haven. And no one was crestfallen that there was less space than usual or that the interior was unfamiliarly officious. Spaces for conversations are in no way linked to square feet; discussions either occur or they don’t. We have been traditionally successful with these. Every day at the appointed hour, everyone gathered around the roundtable to share impressions about the films screened the previous day, and not only about them. In a word, everything went as planned and as always.
As one of the members of the Selection Committee for the program of feature films, I was personally struck by one factor: the films submitted to the Selection Committee in virtually no way reflected the new conditions of film production in the republics of the former Soviet Union. In other words, the films gave no hint about the new economic reality that governs filmmaking in their respective republics. The program consisted of auteur films, mainstream films, and art-house films—just like a category “A” film festival, where even if a blockbuster film is screened, one that has earned insane amounts at the box office, it is shown outside of competition and purely as a background, as illumination to highlight the subtleties of auteur experiments. Amongst the films we screened, there was only one film that clearly aspired to achieve commercial success: The Wanderer (Ovora; dir. Gulandom Mukhabbatova and Daler Rakhmanov, 2005) a melodrama from Tajikistan.
Little Men The Wanderer Saratan
Evidently local producers and distributors are not investing in national cinema, do not understand the value of their national cinema resources, and do not respond to the international film circuit, where Asian productions are currently very much in fashion. It is no secret, after all, that virtually all of the Central Asian films that have broken into international film festivals have been financially supported by Western grant agencies. Several films screened at last year’s KinoForum—Ernest Abdyzhaparov’s Village Authorities (Kyrgyztsan, 2004), Rustem Abdrashev’s Renaissance Island (Kazakhstan, 2004), Marat Sarulu’s The Rough River, the Placid Sea (Kazakhstan, 2004), Nariman Turebaev’s Little People (Kazakhstan, 2003), Kezdus Sulev’s Somnabula (Estonia, 2003)—continue to make the rounds of film festivals and have also found a domestic audience.
The collection of films screened at the 9th KinoForum was not a bountiful harvest. As the saying goes, one year owes nothing to another. At the same time, however, there were a number of original productions; for example, Oedipus (2004), a joint project from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that was directed by Ovliakuli Khodzhaluli, the masterful theatrical director and actor from Turkmenistan. Or Romeo and Juliet (2004) by Latvian director Veisturs Kairish, a veteran of earlier KinoForums, in which the plot of West Side Story is acted out in city interiors by a group of non-professional actors with severe hearing disabilities, but with spectacular abilities of movement and expression. Or, finally, A Hunchback’s Affair (Kazakhstan, 2004), a debut film short based on a story by Ivan Bunin and directed by Nurdin Karagulov. It is a refined film, bordering on surrealism.
Post-Soviet filmmakers, including Russians, are still unable to get rid of socialism’s “birthmarks,” to get beyond a non-economic consciousness, and to master the wisdom of the marketplace. That is the penalty for our unforgettable “historical community of interests.” Today everyone survives on his own. No one has yet had the idea of establishing a foundation that would finance joint international projects on the basis of a competition. Yet the creative resources are enormous. At last year’s KinoForum we screened the very first full-length feature film from Tartarstan that was shot in the native language—Il'dar Iagafarov’s Heavenly Mountain (Kuktau, 2004); this year it was selected to participate in the competition screenings at the Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival and was awarded the prize for Best Producer’s project by the jury of film producers. I appreciate the wisdom of this decision—what a brilliant move: to support a relatively modest project (measured by its budget) against the backdrop of so many big-budget productions! Naturally, the jury took into account the fact that the main role in the film went to Tartarstan’s most important theatrical figure, Iosif Bikchantaev, an actor and director.
I must confess that I am in the ranks of those who are not inspired by market relationships. But it is pointless to argue with the age―nothing else is available to us. The cluster of problems of various kinds, however, that have arisen during the transition from socialism (where “everything around is the collective’s and everything around belongs to me”) to wild capitalism (where money, money, money decides everything, canceling out “lofty ideas” and “spiritual interests”) is a Gordian knot continually present in the programs of KinoForum. I’ll Water the Streets (dir. Nidzhat Feizullaev, 2004) from Azerbaijan amazed me with its finely drawn psychological problematic, stitched from material that is simultaneously ancestral―virtually patriarchal―and international in scope. A leading figure in medicine positions himself as the master of life, but he is revealed to be corrupt; he has simply “grabbed everything.” It turns out that the hero of the film, the man with honor, is his step-brother, a night-watchman, who had served a prison sentence for a crime committed by today’s professor, then just a graduate from medical school. One of my students once wrote in a different context, “today no one films like this and no one watches like this.” I recalled this formulation as I mulled on the meaning of the film from Azerbaijan. I recalled it because I was having doubts about whether there were many viewers today capable of understanding and experiencing the message of this film, which is addressed to one’s conscience. This word has almost completely fallen out of usage; it has disappeared from the normal human lexicon.
Zhano (2004), by the well-known and masterful Armenian director Suren Babaian posed most acutely the problem that public opinion is stubbornly trying to suppress. It is an auteur film, the confession of an artist, performed with self-irony and sarcasm. The director depicts a drama about a talented master of photography and cameraman who has a very colorful personality. Deprived of a chance to work at what he loves, Zhano is forced to take whatever opportunities come his way: to film weddings and burials, to set up photo sessions for striptease performers, to create advertisements for whatever is ordered… Zhano makes a living and also manages to support someone else, he makes his way, hangs out where it is fashionable. But in the process he loses his drive. So he sets off for the “heavenly corner” of his childhood, where he bribes reporters to publicize his death in the mass media. The death of The Artist is played out in a series of clever and visually expressive, tragic-comic scenes. The film immediately attracted the interest of Western distributors. It is obvious that Zhano is not a commercial production that will enjoy enormous success at the box office. But the project was born out of the reality of the marketplace, to which artists have an exceedingly difficult time adapting. Only a producer with a capital “P” can save the artist.
The closing discussion of this year’s KinoForum strayed from the declared topic—“For Whom Are We Making Films?”—and took a constructive, technological direction. This is logical. In order to preserve the Confederation as a creative community with deep traditions, we need a breakthrough. But this not possible unless an organization is created for collaborative film production and distribution, one that is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, even if its pieces are gathered piecemeal from the former republics.