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Discover the contemporary classics of Central Asian cinema free and online

Discover the contemporary classics of Central Asian cinema free and online

Four iconic 90s releases from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are now available in English and online for 2020's Tashkent Film Encounters.

3 June 2020
Text: Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska
Top image: still from The Orator, dir. Yusup Razikov (1998)

Tashkent’s Centre of Contemporary Art has released a new online programme to share the best contemporary classics from Central Asian cinema.

Created together with Saodat Ismailova, a Paris-based Uzbek director, Tashkent Film Encounters says it aims to promote and safeguard the region’s cinematic heritage.

The festival had initially planned to bring together Central Asian directors for a series of film screenings in the Uzbek capital. But, as the Covid-19 pandemic dismantled their plans, the organisers instead moved the project online. Now, from 2 June, English-speaking audiences can view the festival’s selection of the four best contemporary Central Asian films – as voted by audiences – for free on the project’s website.

“I have long wanted to organise something like the Tashkent Film Encounters because, unfortunately, we don’t currently treasure the region’s cinematic heritage of the region, and are losing its unique film language,” says Ismailova. “It is also important to understand the films of our region as a coherent whole, because during the Soviet era, the different Central Asian film industries constantly influenced one another. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threads that held us together broke, and everyone began to think of their own cinematic heritage from scratch.”

The four selected films were released in the 90s, and deal with questions of personal and national identity. Witnesses of turbulent times, they belong to a generation of cinema that took on the task of defining a distinct national style in their own languages, celebrating both the diversity of the region and the uniqueness of each country’s cultural and stylistic voice.

All four films will be available to watch online until 16 June.

The Orator (Voiz)

Uzbekistan, 1998

Director: Yusup Razikov

This historical film tells the story of Iskander, a young Uzbek man who, by sheer accident, becomes the interpreter and active propagator of the new communist regime in Uzbekistan. The Bolsheviks have just taken over the country, and the period of forced modernisation has started. However, reconciling his new position with Uzbek traditions is not easy. Following the death of his brother, Iskander has no choice but to inherit his two wives, yet polygamy does not conform with his new Soviet worldview.

“I remember seeing the film as a student and being shocked, as I suddenly started reading history in a different way,” says Ismailova. “The Orator speaks about the establishment of the Soviet Union from the point of view of a local person, documenting the change in mentality when Central Asian countries started to look at their history and analyse it from the point of view of independence.”

Click here to watch The Orator.

Cardiogram (Kardiogramma)

Kazakhstan, 1995

Director: Darezhan Omirbayev

Born and raised in rural Kazakhstan, Zhasulan is fluent in Kazakh and barely speaks Russian. When he starts to experience heart problems, he travels to a sanatorium in Almaty, a Russian-speaking city in Kazakhstan. There, he is unable to communicate with the other children and staff. While trying to find himself along the spectrum of rural-urban divide, the boy experiences his first romantic attraction.

Cardiogram presents an absolutely different film language, more akin to French cinema, with a visible influence of Tarkovsky. There is something distant and cold in the language, but also poetic and emotional. It was something completely new for Central Asia,” says Ismailova. “Omirbayev managed to decolonise his art, escape from ideologically dictated frames, and define his own voice.”

Click here to watch Cardiogram.

Odd and Even (Kosh ba kosh)

Tajikistan, 1993

Director: Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov

Set against the backdrop of the Tajikistani Civil War in Dushanbe, this moving film is a dramatic tale of love against all odds. When Mira’s father loses her in a game of dice, the young Tajik girl goes into hiding from her suitor Ibrohim. While escaping from her unwanted future, she falls in love with local cable car driver Daler, and they fight for their love against societal pressures and political turmoil.

“Tajikistan is the only Central Asian country which went through years of cruel civil war,” says Ismailova, “and Khudojnazarov’s early films are a humane and honest portrayal of people’s lives during the conflict.”

Click here to watch Odd and Even.

The Swing (Selkinchek)

Kyrgyzstan, 1993

Director: Aktan Arym Kubat

Poetically wordless, this medium-length film is a moving black-and-white portrayal of the emotions of coming of age and falling in love for the first time. In a village in Kyrgyzstan, a boy spends his time on a swing chatting to an older girl. But, as a young sailor returns to the village and falls in love with her, the young boy’s romantic dreams are destroyed.

“I would call it a jewel of Central Asian cinema,” declares Ismailova. “The film is full of symbols, and it silently tells the story through subtle gestures and delicate camera movements. Devoid of dialogue and colour, the film uses folk instruments in a way that is both traditional and experimental.”

Click here to watch The Swing.

All four films will be available to watch online until 16 June.

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