The Berlin film festival – the Berlinale -- wraps up this weekend with an awards ceremony tomorrow. But while the big-budget films and Hollywood stars have been getting the most media attention, cinema-goers in Berlin have also had the chance to see some Central Asian films. A Kyrgyz film is showing at the Berlinale, and a week of Kazakh films has been running parallel to the main festival. It's an indication, says one organizer, of growing interest in central Asian cinema.
18 February 2005 -- The Kyrgyz feature film showing at the Berlinale is "Saratan."
It centers on the lives of people in one small Kyrgyz village. But as director Ernest Abdyzhaparov says, it's also about the whole country's life story following independence.
"As far as context is concerned, this film is about difficulties of Kyrgyzstan for the last 10 years after it became independent from the Soviet Union. I showed it [the history of Kyrgyzstan] through a small Kyrgyz village, its history, people, social, economic and even philosophical issues and developments. I tried to show the whole country's fate by showing one village," Abdyzhaparov says.
"I think nowadays commercial film and real art may come together because, for instance, Hollywood tries to produce good sophisticated films. Meanwhile, we in the former Soviet republics try to change the ways to show our world, try to "commercialize" our films, make them more profitable and attractive for sponsors."
"Saratan" was filmed with the help of German sponsorship money.
It was one of the few films selected for financing by the Berlinale's World Cinema Fund, set up last year to support filmmakers from transition countries.
Until 2007, the fund will focus on filmmakers from Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
Vincenzo Bugno is an adviser with the fund.
"We are particularly happy to have the chance to support a Kyrgyz movie, which has in my opinion a wonderful and very interesting film industry. I know very well the shorts [films] of Ernest Abdyzhaparov, the shorts he has made in the past, along with his friend, [director] Aktan Abdykalykov. So the support of the world cinema fund was a fantastic opportunity to get in touch again with this director, and so it's a happy end of a long story," Bugno says.
Such foreign support can be essential for central Asian filmmakers struggling on low budgets.
Galina Nurtasinova of the German-Kazakh Society illustrates with an example from last year's festival.
"There was a Kazakh film in the children's section called "Do You Want a Puppy?" It was a very good, touching film, and when it ended the director and the lead actor came out. But the audience was confused, because on screen they had seen a 7-year-old boy and it was a 17-year-old teenager who came out to talk to them. The director explained, saying the film had been made 10 years earlier, but then [money ran out] and it lay on the shelf for 10 years. It was only after a sponsor turned up that it was released," Nurtasinova says.
Nurtasinova says that to get greater attention for struggling Kazakh filmmakers, she initiated a festival of Kazakh films that this week is running alongside the Berlinale. The festival, called “Week of Young Kazakh Cinema” is taking place at Berlin’s Humboldt University.
She notes that last fall, central Asian films were also included in Berlin's "Asia Pacific Film Festival" -- another indication, she says, that interest in Central Asian film abroad is growing.
"We are still a blank spot on the map, so there's an interest in the exotic, we are little known, maybe Kyrgyz is better known than Kazakh film. Interest is growing, I can see that not just by the participation in such festivals but by the sponsorship of joint TV projects, or the German producer who is beginning to finance Kazakh films. We showed the [Kazakh] film 'Little Men' where the financing was partly by French sponsors. And it's happening the other way round too, a German cinematographer took part in our film week who worked on joint projects with Kazakh directors. I would say interest is really growing," Nurtasinova says.
Abdyshaparov says foreign money doesn't mean Central Asian films have to lose any of their character.
"I think nowadays commercial film and real art may come together because, for instance, Hollywood tries to produce good sophisticated films. Meanwhile, we in the former Soviet republics try to change the ways to show our world, try to "commercialize" our films, make them more profitable and attractive for sponsors," Abdyshaparov says.
"Saratan" is not in competition at the Berlinale, so it's not up for any awards at tomorrow's ceremony.
But Abdyshaparov says it has already won prizes at two Russian film festivals -- "I believe," he says, "it has a bright future."
(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report)