INTERVIEW WITH Bolot Shamshiev

Few will know much about the cinema in Kyrgyzstan. What currently hampers its development is never aired and never makes the top priority list of state and international organizations. But there is a cinema to note and so Open Central Asia decided to meet one of its prominent players, the People’s Artist of the USSR, the Soviet Kyrgyz actor, film director and screenwriter, Bolot Tolenovich Shamshiyev.

OCA: Bolot Tolenovich, tell us a little bit about your childhood and upbringing?
Bolot Shamshiev: I was born in the city of Frunze, now Bishkek. My father was a well-known Kyrgyz poet and journalist, Tolen Shamshiev. My mother was a doctor. My father went to the front six months after my birth, to fight the Nazis. Therefore, from infancy I was brought up by my maternal grandmother in the village. My father I saw only in 1946, when he returned from Berlin. After his return, our family again began to live in the city. Frunze – the city of my childhood was a quiet and cozy town on the north side of the great Tien-Shan mountains. Although I was a city man, I was always attracted by mountains. I very early began to travel through the grassy hills of Bospoeldek – the foothills near Frunze – to investigate shady mysterious gorges. In high school with my comrades, I began to master steeper mountains in the gorges of Alamedin and Ala-archa. But the main attraction of my youth was cinema. I did not miss a single film from the post-war repertoire of the Frunze cinemas. Gradually the dream was born to become a film director, to make films myself. After graduation, I decided to enter the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. I did not act immediately. I was considered too young and was only accepted for the second year. At the institute, I got a real education, thanks to the outstanding masters of Soviet cinema – A. Zguridi, V. Belokurov, S. Gerasimov, T. Makarova and other well-known authorities of Soviet cinema. As a second-year student, I began starring in the main role of the film “Heat”. I quickly learned the basics of film art and by the end of my studies at the institute I managed to make a short film “Manaschi”, which won the main prize at the International Film Festival of Short Films in Oberhausen (Germany, 1966).

OCA: How did your creative destiny go on? What do you like more – to be an artist, to play someone’s role or to lead the process of filming?
BS: I was drawn to art cinema. After two successful undertakings in documentary cinema films (“Manaschi” and “Chaban”), I began work on a complex project – the adaptation of the story of the Kazakh classic M. Auezov’s “Shot at the Karash Pass”. This film was given to me with great challenges, not in terms of creativity, but because of production dislocations at the young film studio Kyrgyzfilm. Due to my inexperience and youth (just 26 years!), I took on a historical film with expensive scenery and great extras. And in the absence of a qualified film crew at the film studio. But I showed a fighting spirit, coped with the task, and the film went to the world screen. I was noticed not only by the cinematographic authorities of the USSR, but also by my enemies. Each subsequent film that was given I overcame the artificial barriers created not only by party curators from the official ideology, but also by ill-wishers within the state.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the attainment of independence in my Kyrgyzstan, patriarchal-clan relations forgotten in the Soviet era have sharply increased. The authorities, not having a clear social base, turned to the experience of the past and the clan structures began to be formed in the country. As a result, we experienced political instability, frequent changes of governments, which had a very negative impact on the cultural level of the population. The country forgot about representatives from the creative professions and the film studio stopped producing films. All creative workers were withdrawn from the state and were essentially thrown out onto the street, left without pay. The filmmakers were forced to independently seek sources of funding for the embodiment of their artistic designs. But it was not just about art, money was needed for the elementary survival of the families of filmmakers. But there were no longer any sponsors inside the republic. And to this day, for 25 years, not a single professional producer has appeared with money nor a skilled entrepreneur in the production of feature films.
In 2010, the interim government, led by Rosa Otunbayeva (a representative of the Saruu tribe from Talas), allocated money to produce a feature film for the first time. But due to clan attachments and the tribalism that prevailed in the country, such a serious project was given to a representative of the tribe of Saruu. This tribesman of Otunbayeva was not a professional filmmaker, who spent his budget profligately. The film was shot over four years and ended in complete failure. It became clear that the clan relations would lead the country into a final impasse, as once in 1916 northern Kyrgyzstan suffered a national catastrophe after the uprising of the Kyrgyz against the colonial policy of the tsarist government. In the hundreds of thousands of people killed, the Kyrgyz tribalism was primarily to blame. The tribes, who were rival to each other, could not organize a united front against the criminal tsarist regime. And if it were not for the October Revolution of 1917 that eliminated tsarism, all my Kyrgyz people would have been destroyed at the beginning of the 20th century, as once the white colonists destroyed the indigenous Indians when they conquered the American continent. So, professional cinematography is only a dream. At least today in the field of culture, sadly I do not see the light at the end of the tunnel.

OCA: You paint a bleak picture.” Soviet cinema was adored in the past in the West. But in Kyrgyzstan in recent years many films of young directors have appeared on the screens. How do you explain this phenomenon given all the challenges?
BS: An example of what is called “in spite of”. Yes, the state has forgotten about the culture. There is no well-thought-out state policy in the field of professional art. But if in the republic there were problems, these were not only with culture. Problems are everywhere. Social, economic, legal. Each for himself. The slogan “Enrich yourself, how you can!” gave rise to guerrilla warfare. Corruption struck all strata of society. But there are good things still. No wonder the Chinese say: “in order – a mess, in disorder – order!” From the very bottom began to appear a sort of youth cinema. Thanks to the fact that today it is possible to make a video cheaply and broadcast to the world, it’s not difficult or costly to get a picture on the screen. So, a lot of amateur film studios have appeared. The youth began expressing themselves on the screen about a government that had forgotten them. The trouble is that for the sake of surviving the young film studios engaged in commerce, which brought other problems. Money, alas, without it there is no life. It would be desirable for our youth not only to gain public recognition, but also to earn a living.

But to win recognition, one must learn. Cinematography has its own iron laws. They need to know, and it is natural to observe. But to learn, you need to have money. And where will it be found by a young talented person from a low-income family? The question is rhetorical, because the overwhelming number of families in Kyrgyzstan are poor and not able to pay expensive training abroad.

OCA: Why does your government not provide talented youth with assistance in obtaining a fully-fledged education?
BS: The government, these are officials who came to power through clan ties. They are therefore interested in their own family, close relatives, clan obligations. If there is a selection, some tiny help from the government in the field of education, then only to its own. And “their own” is not necessarily talented. Maybe a talented engineer would turn out from this or that child, and yet he was sent to study as a film director!

OCA: What is the main mission of cinema in your opinion?
BS: The whole world is cinema! Modern life is inconceivable without cinematography. Thanks to the invention of the Lumiere brothers, we learn not only about ourselves, but also other worlds. If there is a miracle in the world, then this is a movie! The magic world, the gift of God sent to mankind, that Man should become a Man! In all the works of our great writer Chingiz Aitmatov, the words “How to be a human being, a man” are a refrain. I will say that I believe that the main mission of the cinema is to ennoble the human being! With the help of mass propaganda on the screen, thanks to the democracy of motion picture art: making the world a better place! My Kyrgyzstan is no exception. The consensus of the peoples on the earth is important. And this consensus can provide all forms of all arts, especially cinema!

Maria Batz