The Central Asian Film Series 2008-09 showcased the little-known cinema of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, highlighting Central Asian issues through the eyes of some of the region's best film-makers. Two films from each country were chosen for comparison, one film produced in the 1960s during the Soviet era and one post-independence film made in the 1990s. Sponsored by the Herman B Wells Library and the Open Society Institute (Budapest).
All of these films are available to view in the Media and Reserve Services department of Wells Library (note: due to their format, they require a "region-free" DVD player to view). They are shelved as a set under the title Two epochs of national self-determination in Central Asian cinema: the '60s and '90s. You may also search IUCAT for other Central Eurasian videorecordings (after log-in, choose "DVD/Video search" in right-hand menu; you may choose a language in the search box near bottom of screen).
You are Not an Orphan (Uzbekistan 1963)
A touching story about an Uzbek family which shelters fourteen children evacuated during World War II while their own son is at the battlefront. Children of different ages and nationalities—Russian, Uzbek, Lithuanian, Tatar, Kazakh, and others—learn to live together in one house. Every child comes to the Makhamov household accidentally but stays there by the good will of the foster parents, who understand that it is better for the children to stay with them rather than at the orphanage during those difficult years. The film wonderfully combines the ideas of patriotism and internationalism and expresses the national mentality of the Uzbek people. The director is one of the founders of Uzbek cinema.
Director: Shukhrat Abbasov. Russian with English subtitles. 75 minutes.
The Orator (Uzbekistan 1998)
“The Orator” (Voiz) is an award-winning tragicomedy which narrates the fortunes and misfortunes of a middle-aged cart driver, Iskandar, and his three wives. Set during the 1930s, Iskandar attracts the attention of the Bolsheviks with his oratory skills and is hired as a propagandist for the new regime. Written and directed by Yusuf Razykov, a prominent Uzbek film-maker, this gentle satire humorously portrays ordinary citizens caught between the traditional values of the local Islamic culture and the new Soviet ideology. Razykov uses a fairytale, woodcut-like style in opposition to the realism of earlier Soviet film-making.
Director: Yusuf Razykov. Uzbek and Russian with English subtitles. 84 minutes.
The Land of the Fathers (Kazakhstan 1966)
“The Land of the Fathers” (Zemlia ottsov) is the heartwarming story of an old man and his grandson who travel by train through Kazakhstan to Russia to recover the remains of the boy’s father who died during World War II. During the train journey they meet a variety of people, and these encounters reaffirm the deeper meaning and values of traditional Kazakh culture against modern Soviet ideology. The film presents a thoughtful look at issues of the Motherland, roots, people and nationality. The director is considered the founder of the Kazakh film industry.
Director: Shaken Aimanov. Russian with English subtitles. 85 minutes.
Aksuat (Kazakhstan 1997)
Written and directed by one of Kazakhstan’s most controversial directors and a leading exponent of the Kazakh New Wave, this stark, tragic film conveys a keen love for and attachment to the Kazakh land. In the film, Kanat leaves the city and takes his pregnant wife to visit his older brother, Aman, who lives in the village of Aksuat (the director’s own childhood home). After the baby is born, Kanat is jailed for fighting with a policeman, so Aman takes care of his brother's family and endures gossip and disapproval from the villagers.
Director: Serik Aprymov. Kazakh and Russian with English subtitles. 78 minutes.
White Mountains (Kyrgyzstan 1964)
“White Mountains” [Belye gory] is considered to be the first film to express the true spirit of the Kyrgyz nation and is renowned for its artistic qualities. Following the failed 1916 Kyrgyz popular revolt against Russian domination, a young man, Mukash, helps the daughter of a blind woman escape to freedom across the river to the city. Their devotion enables them to overcome trials and tribulations. Based on the short story “Snowstorm Day” by Mukai Elenbaev. The film was awarded the First Prize at the 1965 Almaty Film Festival of Central Asian republics.
Director: Melis Ubukeyev. Kyrgyz/Russian with English subtitles. 63 minutes.
Beshkempir (Kyrgyzstan 1998)
One of the most acclaimed films since independence, “Beshkempir” is a coming-of-age film which resonates with the clash between modernity and Kyrgyzstan’s traditional culture. In the film’s opening scene, five old women perform an adoption ritual for an orphan taken in by a childless family; they name him Beshkempir (“five old women”) to protect him from the evil eye. The boy matures, carefree and full of energy, under his grandmother’s loving and affectionate attention. Filmed in black-and-white with occasional explosions of color, the film’s documentary style mirrors the aesthetics of the traditional Kyrgyz patch-work felt rug, the tekemet.
Director: Aktan Abdykalykov. Kyrgyz and Russian with English subtitles. 78 minutes.
Khasan-Arbakesh (Tajikistan 1966)
This film—shot in 1965 during the period of the so-called Thaw—tells the story of Khasan, a handsome, young cartdriver (arbakesh) who dreams of earning enough bride-money to marry his beloved. But under Soviet hegemony, changes disrupt his life and Tajik society: carts are replaced by trucks, work is collectivized, women’s veils are discarded, and Khasan’s beloved is sent to a remote kishlak to work as a teacher. "Khasan-arbakesh" is a uniquely creative attempt to portray the clash of traditional Tajik culture with the new Soviet order. Boris Kimyagarov (1920-1979, born in Samarkand to a Bukharan Jewish family) is one of the founders of Tajik cinematography.
Director: Boris Kimyagarov. Russian with English subtitles. 92 minutes.
Kosh Ba Kosh (Tajikistan 1993)
This film is a romantic love story set against the background of civil war in Tajikistan (1992-1996). In this strange and dangerous time, the men gamble while the women hide at home. The film takes its name from an old Tajik dice game. The situation reaches absurd proportions when Daler wins a young woman, Mira, from her father. Not knowing what else to do, he takes her to a cable-car station in the mountains. At first the war seems far away, but soon it reaches their peaceful refuge. The film conveys the atmosphere of war-torn Dushanbe and the spirit of its citizens strengthened by the hardships and absurdities of war. The director has a singular sense of rhythm and soaring ease which gives his viewers a subconscious feeling of happiness and freedom. The film won the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.
Director: Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov. Russian with English subtitles. 98 minutes.