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The Space of My Dream

Tajikistan’s most recognized film director talks about being part of the last Soviet wave and the first generation of filmmakers from his newly independent, devastated country.

Also in this issue: Gulnara Abikeyeva interviews Tajik filmmaker Mairam Yusupova and tells the strange story of contemporary Tajik cinema (click Cinema at left).
by Gulnara Abikeyeva 26 November 2003 Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov has a singular sense of rhythm and soaring ease which gives his viewers a subconscious feeling of happiness and freedom.
Kosh Ba Kosh
His 1993 film Kosh Ba Kosh received the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.

Khudoinazarov was born in Dushanbe. He began working in television and radio in 1989 after graduating from the directing program at Moscow’s VGIK film school. Since the beginning of the civil war in Tajikistan he has lived and worked in Germany. His films include:

The Gambler, short, 1986
Believe It or Not, short, 1989
Bratan, 1991
Kosh Ba Kosh, 1993
Luna Papa, 1999
Shik, 2003

Gulnara Abikeyeva:
Bakhtiyar, when I recall VGIK and the atmosphere there in the ‘80s, I think that we all felt some strong connection among our generation. It didn’t matter what [Soviet] republic you came from, what was important was how modern you were thinking. We all lived in great expectation of change, of something better, something new ...

Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov: At that time everybody was in a state of euphoria. We all hoped for better things, and for tremendous changes in our lives. It motivated us to do something different, something experimental and new.

It was our “wave.” We all lived on the same floor: Rashid Nugmanov, Serik Aprimov, and Alexander Bashirov. We breathed the same air, and they became like brothers to me, because we knew everything about each other. The wave was big, giant, and even though we didn’t intend it, it was a wave of the Soviet cinema.

GA: Are you talking about our spiritual closeness, about our roots?

BK: It’s much simpler than that. It all started on the film sets of VGIK; we all acted in the others’ short films. Sergei Solovyov, who opened his workshop for Kazakh film directors, influenced me more than any other filmmaker. [The theater director] Anatoly Vasiliyev used to rehearse across the street from our school. VGIK was the one and only school for everybody.

I cannot tie myself to Tajik neo-realism, as somebody said in the press. It is not Tajik neo-realism, it is my neo-realism. The way I comprehend my motherland. I always lived between Moscow and the fairytale of Central Asia, which is still alive in my heart. Even the war was like a fairytale, even though horrific …

I came back to Tajikistan to shoot my film Kosh Ba Kosh only because I felt that [Dushanbe] would disappear from my life. My father lived all his life in that town, and still does. It was my farewell, because I knew that I would not come back. I knew that if I ever wanted to feel the aroma of my home I could go to Bukhara, to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. I never could separate myself from Central Asia. [Luna Papa] was devoted to all of Central Asia. Because it is not going to work out if one starts to separate.

GA: You mentioned Kosh Ba Kosh. Mircea Eliade wrote an article about how human habitats are divided into two archetypes: nests and ground-holes. In your movie there are both: traditional earthen huts where people are hiding from the war, as in ground-holes, and funicular cars where young lovers live, as in nests. Did you purposely create these two spaces?

Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov
BK: I didn’t think about it, but you can probably interpret it this way. In hard times it is dangerous everywhere. If you hide in a ground-hole, they can dig you out. If you hide high in a nest, they can knock you down. The only choice is to go to the heart of the danger.

GA: But in your film, the heart of the danger is left outside the frame.

BK: Yes, but the viewer is always aware of it and afraid to go there. A different cinema starts there, and a different dimension opens--the space of hell. I was never interested in it.

GA: I love Kosh Ba Kosh very much. I think it is a luminous picture. It contains the spirit of youth and love. And also, I think, it transmits the Tajik essence.

BK: I would say the Dushanbe essence. The longer I live, the more I understand that even though a very multicultural crowd lived there, we all had one nationality: Dushanbe. That was a very special code, an algorithm that has now disappeared, unfortunately.

GA: Luna Papa made your name famous. Plus, it was the first project on this scale where Central Asia was shown as a somewhat unified territory. It’s another matter that it’s a very eclectic Asia …

Luna Papa
BK: That was the space of my dream. For example, I always dreamed of being born by the seaside. And here we found a lake on the borders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. It was very symbolic. You probably noticed that my crew and cast were very international. It was my great pleasure to cast a Kazakh actor, Dimash Akhmedov; a Georgian actor, Merab Nenidze; and other Uzbek and Tajik actors. I aimed to shoot a film of Asia, communicating its ambiance and its breath.

GA: I think that a common characteristic of Central Asian cinema of the last decade is the attempt to communicate big, grand ideas through simple stories.

BK: I think this is typical of the philosophy of an Asian in general. His life flows from a moment of danger to a moment of rest and so on. This rest makes him think deeply--because another struggle, with mountains, with deserts, and himself, lies ahead of him.

GA: Speaking of Central Asian unity--in Luna Papa this unity exists. Is it logical reasoning or an artistic tool for you?

BK: It is logical reasoning because it is necessary today. It is my memory because it already happened in the past. And it is my dream because it will happen again one day, I am sure. These are the three turning points that ignite my film.

GA: In your opinion, what is the future of Tajik cinema?

BK: Currently, I don’t see any. The situation is so decayed that without governmental intervention nothing is going to change. For now, the most important task is to stimulate interest in our region. It is impossible to count on Western investment in our cinema. I’m not taking my own case into consideration. Film directors are nomads, because their homes are where their jobs are.

This interview was made in 2001. It has been condensed and adapted from the author’s The Heart of the World: Films From Central Asia, translated into English by Dana Zhamanbalina-Mazur (Almaty, 2003).
Gulnara Abikeyeva is a film critic from Kazakhstan. She earned a doctorate from the VGIK film school in Moscow, and has worked in Kazakh film and television. The Heart of the World: Films From Central Asia is her third book.
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