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Cotton and celluloid: a tale of two film festivals

Written by on Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Culture and History, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Videoblog
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Editor’s note: While Uzbekistan’s everyday citizens toil in the cotton fields, Gulnara Karimova has been hosting a festival of government-sponsored films to celebrate her country’s “talent”. NewEurasia’s Khayyam goes looking for Uzbekistan’s real talent, and finds them in a rival film festival in Bishkek.

We had a really, ahem, glorious film festival in Uzbekistan the last week: called “Golden Guepard”, it was organized by Gulnara Karimova as part of her Art Week, which is held annually in the country.

The pathos of the festival — to say nothing of Art Week itself– was completely out of place: it’s cotton harvesting time. So, while foreign visitors and Uzbekistan’s Zil-driving elite were enjoying films and fashion, regular citizens were slaving away on the cotton fields. Of course, there wasn’t a single film about this issue in the festival; only government-sponsored films were shown, and these tend to be standard, clean and harmless, made by directors who are often far removed from the people.

Contrast this situation with the nearly simultaneous “Reformat” festival in Bishkek. Uzbekistan had two really good representatives there, talented hard-edged directors who prefer to shoot only sharp independent films about real issues — neither of whom, by the way, were invited to participate in Googoosha’s spectacle. One of them even won the Grand Prix for Best Film!

That Grand Prix went to the documentary “The Angel … and two of her husband’s” Oleg Karpov and Umida Akhmedova, a notorious Uzbek director. In 2010, she was convicted in “Libel and insult of the Uzbek people” for her film, “The Burden of Virginity” (which you, dear reader, can watch on Vimeo here and here). In Karpov’swords,

“In this new movie, there is no politics. The film — about love and paradoxes of home life — focuses upon a woman who lives with her two husbands in the same apartment. The entire film is built on contrasts. All thingsĀ in this film are very absurd. For example, one of the men of this woman is a Muslim who sings in the choir of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

He added, concerning “Reformat”,

The festival ‘Reformat’, as well as our own festival CAFIF, consist of films that are outside of the [regular] cinematic process: video art, documentaries, games, student films. The ideology is similar in both festivals, but in Kyrgyzstan there were cash prizes [i.e., real appreciation for our work]. It’s funny. [W]e won USD 700 with the Grand Prix; this is our the most successful film.

We [i.e., Central Asians] need more such festivals [...]. Previously, nothing similiar was happening in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. It’s a fresh move, and I hope that they will turn into something systematic, permanent.

Uzbekistan is a very rich country, and not just in terms of its natural resources. Its people can be supremely talented, but they too often get tossed aside for the glory of Googoosha.

Screen capture from "Generation of Port Wine" by Barkovsky

My impression — and not just mine, considering the awards given — is that Uzbek filmmakers represented in ‘Reformat’ looked very presentable. There seven Uzbek films shown [in total]. The film ‘Generation of Port Wine’ by Alexander Barkovsky, who received the third prize of the festival, was perceived as very personal, despite the fact that this movie is about Tashkent youth. [His] characters were familiar with the audience, they were recognizable. The film has a very serious energy.

Barkovsky is one of the most extraordinary video artists in Uzbekistan. His film, “The Generation of Port Wine”, is a documentary sketch of the life about street punks in Tashkent in 1998, full of existential nightmare. In his own words:

“The film was shot in 1998, when there was a a popular party-point called ‘Hitchhiking’ among punks in Tashkent, in the area of the last bus stop ‘Square’, which is now demolished [Ed.: For more information, check out NewEurasia's post on Tashkent's sudden physical transformation]. My friend from Moscow brought a video camera, and all summer I was with this camera, shooting different things. One day, I was in a cafe on the ‘Hitchhiking’ place where punks gathered. The footage laid in my house for ten years, [until] 2008, when I digitized it and spent two years editing it.

“It’s a human story of the generation of the Nineties, of which I was a member. At that time, the mass culture had not yet mixed all the people up in one heap. People were clearly divided into groups for ideological and aesthetic reasons.”

As for his motivations to film, Barkovsky remarked,

“I care about movies and life in general as a director, not for the sake of festivals. There are thousands of festivals in the world. I don’t care about ‘Golden Guepard’. [However,] I would like to participate, but for [obvious] reasons, none of my movies will work there. [T]hey did not even call me. [By contrast,] representatives from other festivals call sometimes.

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