Duration: 83 min
April 17, 2020 - June 23, 2020
The story of the establishment of Soviet power in Uzbekistan as seen through the relationship of the three wives of Iskander. The mistress-commissioner became his fourth and secret wife. The story is told through the perspective of Iskander’s son.
We are starting to publish materials dedicated to the filmmakers and films of Tashkent Film Encounters program. This series of materials was prepared by members of the CCA LAB, a research group of artists involved in the projects of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Tashkent.
These days, Yusup Razykov, a filmmaker whose portfolio is made up of around 60 films and TV shows, is based in Russia. He is a participant and winner of many major film festivals, where he never fails to surprise the jury. The participant of CCA LAB, Asal Esanova spoke with the filmmaker before the upcoming online screening (April 10) of his film Orator (Voiz) from 1999. Razykov discussed problems in modern Uzbek cinema, as well as gave advice for young filmmakers.
Asal Esanova, CCA LAB participant
In interviews you’ve mentioned that as a child you played the main role in the film The Testament of the Old Master and Yuri Stepchuk, the director of the film, told you that you will be a filmmaker. Do you think his prediction helped spark your life-long obsession with film?
– Yes, Yuri Stepanovich was shooting a children's film and there were a lot of children there: of course, I was very distracted by, and caught up in, the shooting process, poking my nose into everything. Sometimes I would even give advice to the props people and tried to be self-organized and independent. Apparently this is what Yuri Stepanovich meant when he said that I could become a filmmaker. For a schoolboy, this was enough to instantly and recklessly believe him!
How did you end up working at Uzbekfilm as a lighting technician after you finished school?
– First of all: that year our Theater Institute did not recruit anyone to the film department, so I went to University to start evening courses in the department of philology and knew I needed a job before starting in. Since I wanted to be closer to the cinema, the only possible way was to go to Uzbekfilm, where I managed to get a job as a lighting technician, which I still do not regret. Working on film crews, you could observe and study the whole process from the inside because in those years I didn't even know what it meant to be a filmmaker.
What are the principles of cinema for you?
– The most important principle for me is a strong drama that creates a meaningful visual series. I graduated from Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography at the screenwriting Department under the outstanding tutor V. K. Chernykh. This is where I learned to create stories and write about any topic.
You said that the idea for you is much more important than the script, that often the script is written very quickly and during the process of shooting new scenes show up.
– Spontaneous inspiration is beautiful. This is also part of the creative process and is only limited by the budget. For example, you go to the market but you only have a ruble in your pocket and you can't spend more. In this case, I start looking for methods and ways to illustrate depth and this often forms the style and signature of the filmmaker.
You are one of the most productive and diverse filmmakers in the CIS. Tell us, how do you select themes for your films? Does the inspiration come from real life?
– I don't get inspiration from anywhere, I just work. You need to constantly work hard to master your skills. It's like in Yuri Olesha's book Not a day without a line. When I’m in love with an actor, I can write a scenario for him, as it was in many of my films, then the actors look organic.
In the early 2000s you became the director of the Uzbekfilm studio. What do you consider to be your main achievement from this period? Was it difficult to balance the administrative position of the director with the creative work of the filmmaker?
– By the time I became the director of Uzbekfilm, there was no creative process happening there. It was a factory of film production: the script and filmmaker were sent from Goskino the (governmental body responsible for film production), and the studio had to provide technical services. So my first task was to create a team, headed by my deputy Malik Abdurahmanov. My team supported me while I was working on my next film and they helped me with administrative matters and there were many small and big victories.
If we talk about the numbers, they are as follows: Uzbekfilm is a state-owned joint–stock company and the share price at the time when I headed it was 1.000 soums; when I resigned my duties – 4,800 soums. And if we talk about any achievements, I’m proud that I did not sell an inch of the studio's territory and buildings, as this had unfortunately been done on occasions before me. Regarding creativity, I could shoot my picture as quickly as possible – in 20 days, without postponing the shooting period, and thus not increasing the film’s budget. This way I could demand other filmmakers follow their deadlines. I wanted to show everyone how to work productively.
Do you focus on film distribution? Do you feel you know what the viewer wants?
– You won't believe it, the audience's reaction still remains a mystery to me. The only picture that I could have assumed it would be in demand is the TV series "Domla". I've had letters written to me, a lot of letters, even from prisons, people asking about the sequel. We planned to shoot a thousand episodes, but it turned out to be only 40. According to the actor Hojiakbar Nurmatov, even a trolleybus stopped in front of him to greet him. This series was so popular. Now my films, shown in festivals and without proper distribution, bring as many viewers to festival halls as I would have with two weeks of film distribution in Moscow, some 20,000 to 25,000 viewers. As for film festivals, even there I don't know how to please selection committees but they already seem to know what to expect from me…
Since the early 2000s, Indian style films were popular in Uzbekistan, but nowadays filmmakers mostly produce Turkish style films. You say that we need to rely on the national characteristics of our cinema: what can you tell us about these features?
– Uzbekistan, no matter what our land was called throughout history, has always been the center of statehood and culture, had its own age-old traditions and customs of education, culture, and science. One of our special features for me is the songs of Komoliddin Rakhimov – sad, pure, about fate and love, about our land. Uzbeks have a lyrical and philosophical attitude to the world. Where the family is a nest, where everything is in harmony with nature, where there is a small well maintained yard, where there is a smell of delicious food and, of course, they love each other, keeping in mind that they are to set an example for their children.
Uzbekistan has changed over the past two years, everyone feels the changes: do you want to try to change the situation with cinema once more? Open a school? To transfer knowledge?
– If the conditions will be suitable, then of course in the future I would like to open a school and I am looking forward to that. Whenever possible, I consult my colleagues remotely, but I can't call them my students. When I was "Oltin Humo" national film award’s jury chairman last year, I watched a lot of films. It was obvious that these operators’ works were technically very advanced but all of them are similar to one another and they are all trying to imitate American and Turkish cinema. They do not feel the desire to become an author, they mostly copy stamps. Often young filmmakers rush into drama without first finding their own theme and signature in art - an good example of someone made this move right is the famous Uzbek screenwriter Odelsha Agishev, author of the films Tenderness, Lovers, White, White Storks and many others.
While preparing for this interview, I had an issue – I just couldn't find your movie Orator on the Internet. Can you tell me the reason why? Is there a problem with the archives in the Uzbekfilm Studio?
– I don't know how and why some pictures appear on the web and others don't. It's a mystery to me. The archives of post-Independence films are in a terrible condition. Previously,\ all Uzbek films, and even black-and-white silent films, were stored in The Gosfilmofond of the USSR, now in White Columns (feature films) and in Krasnogorsk (documentaries). There have been suggestions to take them out of there. As the director of the studio, I was against this because we did not have a base, specialists, and the films would be irrevocably damaged. It’s very difficult to store films: the film needs certain storage conditions, humidity levels, temperatures. I prepared a proposal to the Cabinet of Ministers to organize the storage and presented our calculations. Unfortunately, we didn't get the approval. With digital copies of movies, of course, everything is different.
How did you get the idea for the movie Orator?
– Very simply. I heard that my friend has three grandmothers. I was very interested in this story. The question of compromise, love, and jealousy in such an unusual family, how they managed to maintain harmony. So there was a story about an orator, a master of words, who could charm not only a huge crowd, but also a woman and not just one. It’s a pity that there was only enough funding for the first part of this story, as this film was supposed to be a two-part series.
Looking at the main character of the film, he is a very contradictory character. He has three wives and a wonderful life, but he is campaigning for the Soviet government, knowing what it means for his family - What drives him? At the end of the film, we realize that everything Iskander did in his life he did for his wives, who he eventually loses. Did he hope to run away from his fate?
– In this film, the main thing is not repentance but understanding what happened to the whole country, how people had to preserve their identity through human, moral compromises.
In this film, everything is contradictory, a simple arbakesh, following a Muslim duty, becomes a husband to the wives of his dead brother and in order to preserve such a family he goes to the service of the Councils that forbids such families. He educates his wives and they, having adopted Communist ideals, accuse him of conformity and weakness. Or maybe they are driven by jealousy, because of his love for the commissioner woman and they reject him so that no one gets him. Although they keep his son…
Back in 2001, you dreamed of returning Nazim Abbasov to Uzbekfilm. He recently passed away - would you like to say a few words about him?
– I was friends with Nazim Abbasov and loved this man very much. He was completely different, he managed to maintain an incredible naivete and decency. We studied in parallel courses at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. I remember how in the gym Nazim had a fight with a Dagestani champion wrestler and easily defeated him - his opponent was discouraged. Nasim didn't look intimidating. He was very strong and yet so trustful. I never heard him speak ill of anyone and in our environment this often happened at every turn. Someone may try to “play” naive but he just lived that way. His openness of talent is reflected in his film Fellini; for me it’s one of the best films in Uzbek cinematography. This is a film about the victory of cinema. Despite the clumsy graphics in the final frame of the film, the image is capacious and pure. I’m sorry that Nazim was not able to accomplish many of his plans. He was a rare and bright person and I’m very sad that he is gone.
What do you think about modern cinema culture? About the audience?
– I myself very rarely visit cinemas these days; I can't watch movies with strangers – I often don't understand their reactions and emotions. Sometimes it seems that the audience itself doesn't understand why they came to the cinema hall. There’s a strong feeling that the movie is somewhere in the background for them. The movie is just a series of tricks for them. If the character, for example, thinks, pauses in the film, or something happens that requires them to make a mental effort it begins to irritate them, they just become bored. It’s bitter that a film is only a supplement to popcorn. Of course, I look at this from a philosophical perspective. When I myself need an evaluation of one of my films I invite friends to my studio.
What is a movie for you? What advice would you give to young filmmakers?
– I don't have a filmmaker's education and cinema for me is a form of friendship, a desire to show the world emotional depth through the eyes of an actor and the movements of the camera. When we were shooting 15 meters a day (a really small number) with Hotam Fayziev, he spoke with pride and joy: "We are making a movie! This is happiness!”For young filmmakers, you need to strive for novelty, because you have a live camera in your hands. Yakuts, for example, who were able to get out of the taiga stories about shamans, now shoot absolutely stunning authentic and at the same time deeply national movies. Don't become artisans and imitators. You need to be an author and create something new. Never stop, if there is no funding then turn your phone on and start shooting.
Let's move on to the quick questions. Three of your favorite filmmakers?
– François Truffaut, Charlie Chaplin, and I’m now interested in Tarantino – he, of course, does not particularly move cinematography forward but he is very brave and he’s a master of the profession.
Three movies that you recommend as a must watch?
– Uzbek films? Past days by Agzamov, Without Fear by Ali Hamraev, from my films Comrade Baykenzhaev or Erkek.
What three phrases would you start with the word “I”?
– I'm lazy. I'm trustful. I love to invent and surprise.