Festival Reformat 13. Part II
The festival of video-art and experimental cinema REFORMAT 13 has risen a few questions about the perspectives of these genres in the region. As I have already written in the first part of this article, the domination of documentary or documentary-based cinema can be explained by a number of reasons. However, one of the most important questions is still the same: what role does Orientalism play in the experimental cinema of the region? Is there a need to challenge orientalist perceptions and tendencies in art or should it be regarded as an essential part of the local artistic mentality?
A good example of these contradictions has been Alexander Barkovsky’s film ‘Must not the Dwellers of Medina..’ exploring the life of local gypsies in Bukhara. On the one hand, it perpetuates all the Orientalist stereotypes: the authors are obviously alien to the scenes they film; the camera tends to focus on most exotic and visually expressive objects and events, such as the scene of a sexy girl dancing with a red carpet at the background; the soundtrack for the film, hypnotic electronic music, is juxtaposed against the traditional Central Asian everyday life, thereby reinforcing the dichotomy the Self vs. the Other. On the other hand, the authors have obviously made an effort to familiarise themselves with the life of the gypsies; they were allowed to enter the otherwise secluded family circle; they were committed to show a variety of contexts and, most importantly, they remained honest about their own position: that of a friendly, curious and sympathetic outsider.
Screenshot from Alexander Barkovsky’s film ‘Must not the Dwellers of Medina..’
In a different way the same dilemma was tackled in Sultan Bokonbaev’s ‘Akaev’s School’ – which shows an empty and desolated school attended by a brother of the ousted president of Kyrgyzstan. There some obvious signs of the special status the school enjoyed – so the political accents are evident, but the emptiness of the place raises further questions: was the school abandoned altogether and if yes, why? Or was it simply filmed after lessons or during school holidays – if yes, then why it looks abandoned? These relations between the faded power and the people are explored indirectly and tactfully – through the traces of both, leaving them open for different interpretations. Such contemplating attitude, in my opinion, is an important political statement made in a film on a political subject: the refusal to be judgemental, to take sides, to accuse or to praise. Such subtlety was a pleasant respite from politically-charged art created by the ranks of political activists worldwide which usually leaves only synthetic aftertaste, similar to that of cheap Chinese sweets…
Screenshot from Sultan Bokonbaev’s ‘Akaev’s School
The Rumyantsev’s ‘The Day of the Flag’ on the contrary, is made in the epicentre of celebrations of the political holiday in the capital of Tajikistan. The authors are also obviously alien to the festivities which are presented as a mixture of over-organised celebrations and chaotic, aimless and disorderly everyday life of baffled people. Although the ingredients of this cocktail are different and almost incompatible, authors’ critical attitude to the whole event is evident, but neither obsessive nor hostile.
Screenshot from Rumyantsev’s ‘The Day of the Flag’
In other words, most independent film-makers from Central Asia represented at the festival, are obviously aware of the pitfalls of ‘exotic’ or ‘critical’ Orientalism. They have demonstrated not only their interest in and attitude to their subject, but also an ability to reflect on their own stance in relation to the former. This reflection may not always be conscious and determinate, but the awareness of the need for such reflection is there. And it works.