A relatively unknown poem, of Kyrgyz origin, is winning plaudits everywhere it goes as a result of a determined set of film makers who have managed to put together a modest budget and come up with a stunning film that brings this ancient piece of Kyrgyz culture to life. Open Central Asia finds out more…
OCA: Tell us how the idea of the film came about and why you felt this Kyrgyz poem deserved to have its story told?
The idea of making this film belongs to the deputy of Jogorky Kenesh, Zhyldyzkan Zholdosheva, who has been working for a long time on the project dedicated to the Alai queen named Kurmanjan Datka. It follows a number of Kurmanjan Datka events and the monument at the Ala-Too Square. For several years, the project’s initiators have been striving for this film project. As a result, after 20 years, the government finally supported the idea of the filming a historical feature-length film titled, “Kurmanjan Datka” by the National Film Studio, Kyrgyzfilm, in conjunction with Aytysh films. As the production director I felt a great responsibility towards trying to educate the younger generation. It is a major film in the history of the Kyrgyz cinema, and it was not a simple film because it tells of the complex life and work of a truly great personality. That is why I felt that this Kyrgyz poem deserved to have its story told.
OCA: This is Kyrgyzstan’s most expensive film (costing nearly $1.5m), how did you overcome the challenges in raising this money for a film about a little-known part of the world?
This is a state order; funds were allocated from the state budget. It was allocated some 70 million Som. In reality it’s a miserly sum for such a big project. It was very difficult to fit everything into such a small budget. Historical films tend to be very expensive because it is necessary to recreate a detailed picture of the past that is realistic enough to make the audience believe. For the first part of filming, 40 million Som were allocated, but this was not enough and the film crew had to scrap the project, fearing that it might never be completed. There were plenty of people who were skeptical during this period, our ill-wishers added fuel to the fire, making psychological and negative comments that began to put the success of the whole film at risk. We didn’t give up, however, and finally had some luck when the finances were granted to us and for that I am very grateful to my team.
OCA: What long-term vision do you see for the Kyrgyz film industry as a result of this film? Should there be more national support for the industry or should the money be raised only from private investors given the economic situation in the country?
Native audiences, especially young viewers, need such kinds of films. Today there is a big issue around the preservation of national identity, history, traditions, culture and patriotism. History reflected through the movie, with powerful visual and verbal material, is an excellent educational tool. Especially now, when society is dependent on advanced technology and is already partly living in a virtual world, this is an important medium of communication. This project has done wonders to increase the interest in Kyrgyz cinema outside of Kyrgyzstan. Typically, films that reflect the history of individual nations are not particularly interesting to foreign audiences, and are not very successful. But we can certainly refute this statement since our first motion picture, Kurmanjan Datka, managed to win over every foreign audience at every film festival. There is a lot of positive feedback from world famous filmmakers, film critics and Hollywood stars. We had to organize additional reruns at film festivals, because there were so many people who wanted to watch this film. That is why such films have to be screened. It’s not just about national support. If there is a worthwhile project, you should also try to find private investors. Why not to shoot them together with foreign companies? The movie business does not tolerate egoism, it’s a joint art. Each professional makes their contribution to a certain project.
OCA: With subtitles in English there is clearly much hope that English-speaking audiences will take to the film and there has been significant press coverage. How has the film been received critically?
Besides English and Russian languages, the film has been translated into Chinese and Italian. We are currently working on the translation into Japanese. International critics, who had no idea where our country is, how many people live there or what our culture is like, have come up to me after watching the movie to shake my hand and express their delight. Almost all of the critics have admired the national Kyrgyz beauty. Beauty in every sense of the word; its faces, costumes, nature, etc. After the film’s world premiere at the Montreal International Film Festival, representatives of the Western media covered our project. Such global publications as The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, Variety, and Montreal Gazette wrote about us.
OCA: Do you have another project in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Currently we are working on the promotion of a new film of Mirlan Abdykadyrova called “Sutak.” There are so many projects in our plans. Probably we will shoot another epic project. We received some proposals for joint projects. One is already starting, together with the United States, Russia, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan. There are big plans for the opening of the Asian International Film Festival in Los Angeles.