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Germany: Central Asian Films Highlighted At Berlin Festival

Berlin is the setting this month and next for a festival on Central Asian arts and culture. In the spacious halls of the German capital's House of World Cultures, a series of exhibitions, conferences, and literary discussions are being held. One of the highlights of the festival is a survey of regional films made in the post-Soviet period. RFE/RL correspondent Janyl Chytyrbaeva attended the festival and spoke with some of the directors about the challenges of making films.

Prague, 23 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- One of the highlights of a two-month exhibition of Central Asian art and culture going on in the German capital, Berlin, is a film festival highlighting the work of the region's young film directors.

More than 30 films by 20 directors from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan will be shown at the exhibition. The 10-week festival, at Berlin's House of World Cultures, runs until 20 May. The film series -- titled "Siz Kim Siz: Who Are You?" -- ends 28 April.

The films were chosen to reflect an insider's view of people who live in a radically changing world and who are caught between traditional nomadic and Islamic roots and the search for a new identity.

Doris Hegner is the film coordinator for the project. She spoke to our correspondent on the specifics of the films represented in Berlin.

"What is special about the film is the aesthetics -- how they shoot a film, how they deal with the actors. They are very silent films. There is not much conversation in these films. Very silent, very slow in a way, but they are very strong in images."

Gulbakhor Mirzoyeva, a poet and screenwriter from Tajikistan, is one of her country's relatively few filmmakers. Tajikistan's five-year civil war, which ended in 1997, drove many filmmakers out of the country.

Mirzoyeva started her career in 1990 with the film "Dvoe" ("Two"). She is cautiously optimistic about the future of her homeland.

"Nowadays, the imperative is to re-establish television. It is being re-established. Of course, it is pro-presidential. I think we have lost 10 years, and now the young people who fought the war or grew up during the war will, step-by-step, recover what has been lost."

Mirzoyeva fled Tajikistan at the beginning of the civil war and has lived in France since then. She returned to her home country in 2000 to make the film "Retour a Douchanbe" ("Return to Dushanbe"). She told our correspondent what she wanted to show in the film.

"[In my film,] I tried to express how the war went through the hearts of people -- my friends, my relatives, the artists, filmmakers, my parents -- and what it left afterward."

Another festival participant is Aktan Abdykalykov, a representative of the so-called "Kyrgyz phenomenon" in post-Soviet cinematography.

His film "Beshkempir," a story of a teenage boy's coming of age, has previously been shown at festivals in Cannes, Berlin, and Vienna. It also was included on a candidate list for an Academy Award as best foreign film this year.

Abdykalykov started making films a decade ago, financing the films himself. But his latest films are all co-produced with companies in France and Japan. Recently, Abdykalykov became a member of the European Film Academy in Berlin.

"For me the biggest prize is when my people watch and understand my films. It makes me very happy."

Abdykalykov says few full-length feature movies are made in Kyrgyzstan anymore, mostly due to a lack of financing.

Kazakh filmmakers, on the other hand, appear to be more fortunate.

Doris Hegner of the House of World Cultures talks about the changes going on in Kazakh film.

"They have a very interesting development during the last 10 years. Like in Kazakhstan, they call it 'Nouvelle Vague,' like the French 'Nouvelle Vague' -- the 'New Wave.' The director Darezhan Omirbaev, who is here, is one of those excellent directors who do really brilliant film projects."

The Kazakh "New Wave" was launched by four directors after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Omirbaev says the filmmakers tried to put more of an emphasis on the visual side, whereas older Kazakh movies were based on the performances of the actors and the film's content.

But Omirbaev says the new Kazakh films don't enjoy on overly sympathetic acceptance from Kazakh audiences, perhaps because of the filmmakers' urban and pro-Western bias.

He says this doesn't concern him. What matters, he says, is that the films find acceptance by a wider international public.

"Of course, it is a pity a little bit [that more Kazakh viewers don't like our films]. I would want the [films] to be watched also in my home country, because they are the products of that environment. But all in all, a [good] film may find its viewers everywhere -- abroad, in other countries, too. What matters is the quality of the spectator, his tastes, not his nationality."

The Kazakh film industry is getting a boost this year. The government has announced it will give tens of millions of dollars to the national film industry. Already a big historical movie is being planned. Entitled "Nomads," it will be devoted to the struggles of the Kazakh nation in the 17th and 18th centuries to repel invaders from China and Russia.

(More about the festival can be found on the Internet at