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
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
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.