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03 July 2023







03 July 2023




I have been asked to look at Tajik cinema during the period of Independence. However, in my opinion, the task is overwhelming for several reasons. First, I am not a certified film critic, I would refer the reader to the most mature authors in Tajikistan who could satisfy their interest about the processes in the country's film industry. For instance Sharofat Arabova, and Professor Sadullo Rahimov who have larger experience in the field. And second, I would like to conduct a bigger research for Ruyò. However, I gladly accepted the invitation to reflect on Tajik cinema as an observer.

As an independent researcher, I greatly rely on my own experience and knowledge to form the opinion, but this is not my first time reviewing Tajik films. It started during my work in the office of OSIAF (part of global OSF, George Soros network), when the office was working on creating a space for critical thinking in arts and culture . Since there was no place to study art, theater and film critique in Tajikistan, I, as the Coordinator of the Art and Social Activism Program, initiated a critical-training programme for local journalists. This was the first experience of writing reviews for a cultural event / film screening/ theater play for myself. And as I improved my writing and analytical skills, I became more confident in getting my message through.

Considering that, I would like to move further and discuss with you, dear reader, the Tajik cinema as a reflection of the country's ongoing processes.

As you might know, Tajikistan survived the carnage, and it still echoes in the political processes, but rarely in the films. Anisa Sabiri, a young British-based filmmaker, produced a short feature film Nolai Tanbur (The Crying of Tanbur) reflecting on the trauma of war, on the example of one family that was affected by the fratricidal war. I don’t remember any other films that reflected the civil war. This subject is sensitive, not only for the ordinary people but for those in power too. The trail of the Narodni Front is long, it is not entirely univocal, and talking about it is still not accepted and risky. Nevertheless, the Tajik war echoes in the films in other ways.

The destroyed film industry infrastructure, lack of workforce and funding, and most importantly, self-censorship (unfortunately I can’t list the numerous laws covering the official censorship of the state) – limits filmmakers in subject matter, self-expression, and courage to experiment, and go against the established canons of cinema. That makes the cultural community not accustomed to examine cinema, theater and contemporary art, nor the other cultural activities.

There has been an IFF Didor in Tajikistan, created by a group of film professionals and enthusiasts in 2004. They have had extensive and promising connections in Central Asia, and in the former-Soviet space. Didor tried to build ties in the film industry at the global level but did not succeed. Undoubtedly, there are objective reasons for this, but the absence of a national festival, lack of support for young filmmakers and their desire to create, despite the poor funding, created a precedent of self-doubt and the uniform within the field.

I recall once a famous Tajik filmmaker of the Soviet period, at his workshop at the Zebunisso Cinema (former Dom Kino) in 2017 or 2018, kept asking the participants of the workshop what was the last book they’ve read. Youngsters awkwardly smiled, but the filmmaker continued to interrogate them. I still think about it and how it is absolutely impossible to educate people with these interrogation methods.

There is a huge gap between the current generation of the country's filmmakers, who are tajik speaking people, who did not study at VGIK or other ‘serious’ film schools, and the experienced filmmakers who possess extensive academic knowledge and a large professional network. In my opinion, the Didor Festivalcould not overcome this gap. The authoritarianism inherited by almost all Soviet period filmmakers in the country did not contribute to the dialogue of generations and slowed down the long-drawn processes of the film industry.

Despite the challenges faced by the film industry, Tajik cinema has demonstrated progress. Internews in Tajikistan plays a role in fostering documentary filmmaking. Additionally, numerous international organizations provide mini-grants to amplify narratives that carry significant importance. I actively sought out these grants to give voice to my own stories. These include the animated film Huwaydo and the documentaries Farangis, which explores the challenges faced by female artists in society, and Dancing Men,which delves into the stigma surrounding men who choose to dance.

In the present era, a wave of talented young filmmakers, who have graduated from both Russian and foreign film schools, is emerging onto the cinematic landscape. Among these emerging voices are Anisa Sabiri, Pairav Sharifov, Tamish Muminova, Samir Afardi, Sohib'er Tolib, and others, each contributing their unique perspectives to Tajik cinema. It is undeniable that they leave a bright mark on the history of the country's cinema, and the number of these names will grow.

Speaking about the future, it becomes evident that each of the aforementioned directors have their distinct vision. For instance, in the film Bachai Obi (Child of Water) by Fayzullo Fayz (2020), the future is intertwined with a young protagonist named Ramzes (played by Mehrochiddin Safar) who forges a profound emotional bond with a neighbor that surpasses his connection with his own parents. Similarly, Umedsho Mirzoshirin's 2021 film Dodaraki Farishtakho (Younger Brother of the Angels) revolves around a child named Faizullo (portrayed by Alijon Bobobekov) and his journey towards maturity, driven by his aspiration to break free from the cycle of familial misfortunes. In Manzali Sherali's 2021 film Sarbor (Burden), which falls within the road-movie genre, the narrative revolves around a woman (played by Saodat Safarova) who remains nameless throughout the film. She entrusts her child to a driver before vanishing forever. So, what are directors' perspectives regarding the future of the country?

In Bachai Obi, the protagonist Ramzes exudes strength of character, charisma, and a deep reverence for his roots and traditions. Alongside Ramzes, another significant character emerges in the form of Boboi Barakat (blessing), the neighbor of the Ramzes family. Boboi Barakat serves as an iconic figure or a guide, offering insights into the adult world for young Ramzes. This character emphasizes the importance of leading a righteous life, abstaining from alcohol, and showing respect to adults and elders. Moreover, Boboi Barakat instructs Ramzes's mother, Soro Sobir, to avoid contradicting her husband and to abide by his rules. These motifs and character dynamics underscore the filmmaker's exploration of religious themes and their significance in shaping the characters' lives and relationships.

In Umedsho Mirzoshirin's film, the main character Fayzullo exhibits remarkable strength and charisma too. He assumes the responsibility for his family's fate, willingly sacrificing himself to break free from a curse. Fayzullo demonstrates his determination by cauterizing his own heel, enduring excruciating pain. He embodies the essence of a vigilant protector, awakened with primal instincts, fiercely guarding his home. To eradicate negativity and expel death from the household, Fayzullo brings a Duff (tambourine) and requests his mother (played by Barokhat Shukurova) to play it during his younger sister's funeral. His presence and influence are such that his mother obediently follows his lead, playing a livelier rhythm at the occasion. This extraordinary event serves as a testament to the indomitable willpower of a future individual, hinting at the potential to shape and influence societal processes.

In Manzali Sherali's film, we witness a woman forcibly expelled from her husband's house, stripped of her rights, and left in a state of silence, with tears as her only outlet. Throughout the film, she remains voiceless, except for one instance when she implores the driver to stop the car. It becomes evident that her baby is unwanted, not only by her but also by her husband and their respective families. Enter the driver, played by Abdukarim Mashrab, who finds himself left with a child, despite having nothing but a wrecked car and a loving family of four daughters. It becomes apparent that he will step up to adopt this child, providing this baby a shelter..

So, what does this all mean for us? It seems to paint a picture of an ideal city, free from temptations, where righteous citizens hold deep respect for their traditions. A place where families are devoid of curses and sins, fostering a community of conventional individuals. In this utopian realm, children are cherished, never abandoned out of despair or hopelessness. One can envision a place where people are sober, morally upright, and fully functional for themselves and their loved ones. Tajik filmmakers, like many other intellectuals, possess their own visions of an ideal society, reflecting their ideas of the best place to live.

Another crucial aspect explored by these artists is their attitude towards women. As a feminist, I place gender optics at the forefront, which has sometimes been met with criticism. However, upon examining the works of the three filmmakers mentioned above through this lens, it becomes evident that Manzali Sherali, in particular, demonstrates a deeper sympathy towards women compared to his contemporaries. His long-held idea of capturing a story he personally witnessed, depicting the cruelty inflicted upon a woman who dared to fall in love without the consent of her parents or relatives, weighed heavily on him. Saodat Safarova's outstanding portrayal in the director's film brings this narrative to life, highlighting the importance of addressing and challenging such injustices against women.

Umedsho Mirzoshirin portrays Fayzullo's mother, as kind-hearted yet powerless. Her character shows subordination of a mother to the will of her child, as the avoidance of conflict and obedience to the dominance of men, which are familiar dynamics within a traditional society. Similarly, the film by Fayzullo Fayz explores a situation, where Ramses' mother is depicted even more negatively. She expresses her frustration towards her husband, recognizing his indecisiveness in family matters. Through her vocal outbursts, the unsympathetic nature of the character is shown, despite her intentions to contribute positively to the well-being of the family.

Tajik cinema’s finest examples are the works of Bakhtiyor Khudonazarov and Bako Sadykov, particularly the film Adonis 14, which I personally consider a masterpiece of world cinematography. Each film is a unique creation that reflects the inner world of its creator. The richness or poverty of this world depends on the values acquired through personal experiences and acquired knowledge. The artist's worldview becomes more diverse and complex with the weight of knowledge and the experiences derived from personal encounters and observations of others.

However, it is important to acknowledge the prevalence of self-censorship in the country. The country's foremost slogan across all spheres of social activity is "Do no harm by any word or deed to the country, to the constitutional order." As a result, the expression of protest sentiments in art is lacking, a notable indicator of Soviet Tajik art, which continues even today.

Personally, I am determined to continue creating my own narratives through theater and cinema. I aspire to research further into the world of Tajik art and the diverse realm of creators and artists in its broadest sense. This pursuit is invaluable to me, offering both enriching experiences and significant avenues for self-expression, ultimately shaping my own unique worldview.

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