ago, it was cold and grey, the films were never screened on time
and a Kazakh character actor almost got me drunk. And I nearly
threw up on the deck of a boat when we sailed on the big Almaty
arrived at the 3rd Eurasia International Film Festival ( 25 Sept
- 1 Oct) in Kazakhstan with some trepidation. No more horse meat,
I swore under my breath when I attended the first banquet. Of
course, I ate some. It is a national dish after all and a well-known
new wave Kazakh director poked me in the ribs and said: "Eat some
more. It's good for manhood." Hmmm, there must be some "riding"
surprise, the festival rocked. Or at least to my mind, it succeeds
in what it's serious about - the cinemas of Central Asia, the
region also known as Eurasia because Europe and Asia meet here.
Some of the folks here look Eastern and some Western and when
the twain meets, god, the girls looks gorgeous
the films are really great too!!
following Central Asian cinema from 1988 when Rachid Nougmanov's
The Needle screamed the beginning of Kazakh new wave; Darezhan
Omirbaev's Cardiogram (Kazakhstan) took the Best Asian Film prize
at the 9th Singapore Int'l Film Festival (1996) while Aktan Abdykalykov's
Beshkempir (The Adopted Son, Krygystan) repeated the feat when
it won the Young Cinema Award at the 12th Singapore Int'l Film
the Kazakh new wave is no more. The rock star, Victor Tsoi (of
Korean descent), who played in the Needle, passed away shortly
after the film in 1990. The director, Rachid Nougmanov made the
interestingly weird and surreal The Wild East (1992) and this
film sort of bookended the new wave. Interestingly, Nougmanov
never made anything else. But his presence is so strong that the
festival invited him over anyway. His son plays rock guitar now,
he told me.
Tuychiyev's The Spring.
young rock spirit is sorely missing now so when Zhanabek Zhetyruov's
Notes of a Travelling Inspector (Kazakhstan, 2006) took the Best
Film Prize in the Central Asian Competition, it wasn't surprising.
The film is nicely made though it borders on being old-fashioned.
Its tale of a philandering son who works as a travelling railroad
inspector while depending on his blind father to tell him which
parts of the track need mending, is nostalgic and heart-warming.
But it doesn't go much further than that. You could say the film
runs out of tracks to run on.
Manabai's Kek (Revenge, Kazakhstan, 2006) which won a Special
Jury Prize for Best Cinematography is pretty standard fare as
well. Basically a horse-riding action film of a couple who want
to be together despite their family's wishes, the film is cleanly
shot with polished action. Manabai has seen better days with his
classic Surzhekey, The Angel of Death (1991).
Aytuarov and Satybaldy Narymbetov's Steppe Express (Kazakhstan,
2005) is a step up (pun intended) and it won a Best Acting prize
in the Central Asian competition. The film takes a Western-man-meets-Oriental-girl
theme and reverses the exoticism. Here, the French man is exoticised.
The film, after all, isn't really about him. It's about the girl's
relationship with her father, who at first resists their romance
for fear of losing her but who then approves the relationship
to facilitate the marriage. To his horror, the French lover has
no plans to marry his daughter but still takes her back to France.
The film then enters the next story arc, that of the new Kazakh
generation's separation from their land and culture. When the
father dies many years later, the daughter returns with her son.
After the funeral rites, the son wants to stay but the daughter
insists on bringing him away. Interestingly, Steppe Express had
no foreign co-production funding which perhaps explains why the
film is so faithful to local culture.
Express strongly contrasts against Nurbek Egen's The Wedding Chest
(Krygystan, 2006) which won a Special Jury Prize in the Central
Asian section. Well-shot and nicely art directed, the film has
a French girl who meets the family of her Krygys husband. The
drama relates to the family clan's opposition to the marriage.
Wedding Chest had several foreign funding partners and it shows.
The local flavour of the film tends to be exoticised - cultural
ceremonies, landscape, costumes etc.
Karsakbayev My Name is Kozha.
a critics seminar on East-West dialogue held at the end of the
festival and moderated by the festival's Artistic Director Gulnara
Abikeyeva, a Western scholar proposed that the terms "East" and
"West" are outdated, that a new paradigm had to be constructed.
Well, excuse me, but shifting the terms of reference merely mask
the same issues. The terms East and West exist to show the gulf
of knowledge and understanding, that there is so much to know
about that we don't. Removing the terms East and West leaves us
with other similar problematic terms such as local and global.
Even for us Asian critics, the Central Asian cinema terrain leaves
much to uncover. We are barely scraping on the surface.
festival is crucial in bridging this gulf of understanding. For
example, this year's essential programme was the Retrospective
of Abdulla Karsakbayev (1926-83). Without the Eurasia festival,
we wouldn't have easy access to the films of Karsakbayev, one
of four founding fathers of Kazakh cinema (along with Shaken Aimonov,
Sultan Khodzhikov and Mazhit Begalin).
worked in the difficult period of the Soviet times which imposed
strict censorship. Yet his films were always rebellious, even
his debut work, My Name is Kozha (1963). Told as a children's
film, Kozha is a playful schoolboy who perpetually causes problems
for his teachers. Yet his integrity keeps him honest and innocent.
Stylistically, Karzakbayev uses animation and a fluid editing
style that keeps this film remarkably fresh. It's no wonder that
the West only discovered this film four years later in Cannes
1967 and still awarded it an Honourable Mention.
Morning (1966) continues this rebellious streak and Karzakbayev
makes a film that both barely escaped the scrutiny of the Soviet
censor and spoke to the national pride of Kazakhs. In 1918, the
Commissar of a small Soviet special force detachment sets out
to capture a Kazakh rebel leader. Himself a Kazakh, the Commissar
succeeds in catching the rebel but at a great cost to his troop.
The rebel escapes with the Commissar in chase. This time, however,
his life is saved by the rebel leader. By doing so, the film arouses
the sense of nobility and Kazakh pride.
Aytuarov and Satybaldy
Narymbetov's Steppe Express.
background also reminds the Kazakh audience of Soviet repression
and the value of resistance. It wasn't surprising therefore that
Karzakbayev found it difficult to find work for many years. Shot
as an Eastern, the deserts and mountains of Kazakhstan gives John
Ford's Monument Valley a run for the money.
award-winning A Chase in the Steppe (1979) is in the same mould
as Disturbed Morning. But the film is more conventional and all
the shades of meaning in Disturbed Morning are sorely absent here.
retrospective was sadly quite poorly attended. Yet this is exactly
why the festival has to carry on. While the first Eurasia was
held in 1998, it was very distressing that the second edition
only took place in 2005. It's therefore encouraging that a year
later, the third Eurasia was organised. For the sake of building
a local audience for cinema, the annual organisation of a film
festival maintains the habit and momentum for watching films.
For the sake of the Kazakh film industry as well, it is important
that the audience sees the attention its local film is accorded
on an international level.
for the sake of the Central Asian region as a whole, Eurasia is
important. For example, Kamara Kamalova's Road Under the Skies
(Uzbekistan, 2006) which took a Best Director prize in the Central
Asian section, has now garnered international recognition. A tale
of love and misfortune, the film's surreal scenes of colourful
but abstract local mythology smacks of the master, Sergei Paradjanov.
And even if Yelkin Tuychiyev's The Spring (Uzbekistan, 2006) didn't
pick up any prize, it was highly rated by the international critics.
The film's tale of a woman unsure of her imminent wedding leads
her to encounters with couples with wretched relationships, works
through gentle humour and irony.
I forgot to mention that Steven Seagal was the guest of honour.
But really, that's beside the point of this festival.
My heartfelt thanks to Dinara Ismagulova who faithfully translated
many of the unsubtitled screenings.
here for other movie articles by Philip Cheah:
On The Road From Cannes, Part I
On The Road From Cannes, Part II
On The Road From Cannes, Part III
East Goes West, West Goes East
Finding Asian Film Gems In Locarno 2005
Five Leaves Left: The Last Days Of Kurt Cobain
Imagine There's No Countries...
The Power Of Nightmares
The Year Of Speaking Mandarin