Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Kyrgyz Cinema
Kyrgyz Cinema

Kyrgyzstan may not spring to mind whenever there is discussion about the Cinema and the film industry.  This is understandable as very few films made in Kyrgyzstan ever reach audiences in the West, and those that do are normally restricted to various specialist festivals.  There is, however, a film industry and, even though they don’t produce high-budget “blockbusters”, the Kyrgyz Film Institute has long had a reputation in the countries of the former Soviet Union for producing interesting and challenging films.  That reputation is being maintained by a new generation of producers in the newly independent country, despite facing many problems – such as the lack of finance.

Kyrgyzstan got its own film studio in 1942.  It was the last of the Central Asian republics to do so.  At first, the studio made just documentaries and news reels.  It was only in 1955 that the first “feature” to be filmed in the country, “Saltanat”, appeared.  In fact, “Saltanat” was produced by a film company based in Moscow (“Mosfilm”) and the first truly local production, called “My Mistake” appeared two years later, in 1957.   

During WWII the film studios in Central Asia were to become the center of Soviet film production: as with many other industries the studios of Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev were evacuated from the path of the advancing German armies and were transplanted to the safety of the Soviet Union’s vast interior.  After the war, when the western Russian studios returned to their original bases, they left much of their equipment behind in their temporary homes, further-boosting Central Asian filmmaking in terms of facilities. In terms of subject matter, however, the studios were still subject to the dictat of the Moscow regime.

It was in the 1960’s when cinema in Central Asia began to blossom, A change in attitudes in Moscow (sometimes called the “Soviet Thaw”) initiated by Premier Nikita Khrushchev cleared away the restrictions imposed by the Stalinist regime.  In the arts this meant an end to the official monumental style and "freedom of expression" was encouraged.  Although not all forms of control were abandoned, a more realistic, personal, kind of cinema was encouraged.  A great deal of money was invested in the film industry and production grew – including the output of the studios in the Central Asian republics.

The Kyrgyz author, Chinghiz Aitmatov was to play a pivotal role in the development of Kyrgyz Cinema.  Apart from the fact that he was the head of the Kirghiz Filmmakers' Union for over twenty years, his novels and screenplays formed the basis for much of the country's film classics and also served as aesthetic examples – so that even if he wasn't directly involved in a film's production, he still exerted a strong and unmistakable artistic influence.

One of the major film producers of this period was Tolomush Okeev, who has been described as “one of the greatest outdoor filmmakers who ever lived”, “a somewhat reclusive master of a discreet pantheistic cinema”, “a born poet”, and a “master of the smallest nuances, of the beauty of details”.  Landscapes were a vital element of his films, the storylines were usually minimal with few plot twists. 

The 1970s and early 1980s were challenging but rather productive and many of the Kyrgyz film makers was for films to show the daily life of locals.  It was during the period of Perestroika that several young filmmakers began to attracte attention on the festival circuits.
However, just as such directors were beginning to obtain a reputation the collapse of the Soviet system a devastated the regional film industries.  Suddenly: there were no more state subsidies available; they were deprived of the services of an agency in Moscow which would promote their work to Western festivals and distributors; and there were no film schools outside Kazakhstan for any Central Asian directors.

Faced with serious social, economic, social and political problems, the arts were not a high priority for the government and the national film centers (throughout Central Asia) found themselves in severe difficulties.  However, most filmmakers stayed in their home countries, although many of them work in other businesses in order to earn a living and creative filmmakers started looking towards the West for finances and recognition.  Some films have been produced with financial support from Europe, notably from France and Germany.  Films have been submitted to several festivals around the world and have achieved a certain level of success and earning recognition for several individuals, (such as  Beshkempir and Saratan).

Kyrgyz films tend not to be filled with action.  They are more atmospheric and have an artistic flair which mark them out as different from their Western counterparts.  In place of action, the directors, actors and film crews call upon their collective experiences.  (Some of the films have distinctly autobiographical elements.)  Many of the themes explored are expressed through everyday situations – the life and culture of the people.  The films are populated with scenes from daily life.  Animals and landscape also feature prominently. 



Discovery Kyrgyzstan #9

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