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Uzbek cinema enjoys revival
In Uzbekistan, filmgoers not only watch, but love films—especially Uzbek ones
By Rashid Musayev
In Uzbekistan, filmgoers not only watch, but love films—especially Uzbek ones.
Unlike many countries in the world, not only does Uzbek cinema survive, it flourishes.
Perhaps that is why, in 2009, Uzbekistan shot 46 films, 36 of which were private-studio funded.
“Of course I love Hollywood movies, but Uzbek film is closer to my soul – it is closer to us. It portrays the same issues that we have and it makes it possible to look at oneself from the side”, said Sevar, 25. “Uzbek film is from the soul, while Hollywood ones – it’s just gunfire and comedies”.
More than 90 percent of the national box office comes from Uzbek films; Indian, Russian and Hollywood productions represent the remainder. In Uzbekistan it is possible to shoot a film for US $30,000, and many directors are certain that such films can generate a good profit.
One of the most popular Uzbek commercial directors, Bakhrom Yakubov, fills the cinemas.
“May my colleagues forgive me, but they have ruined Uzbek cinema. Filmgoers started leaving the cinema and they stopped coming altogether. In the 1980s and 90s, the cinemas were empty; no one cared about cinema. Businessmen started renting cinemas and turning them into restaurants. We should be thanking commercial directors for bringing filmgoers back to the theatres”.
His film “Superkelinchak” (“Super Daughter-in-Law”) – about an undesired daughter-in-law who, nevertheless, finds a key to her mother-in-law’s heart – brought Yakubov national glory, respect - and a lot of money.
The main stars of Yakubov’s films are singers — they are big in Uzbek and Russian show business. He says people are ready to buy cinema tickets, to see their idols on screen.
“We used these showbiz stars … in order to bring filmgoers back to the theatres. However, lately we have been using professional actors”, the director said.
Independent film experts tend to see a different situation.
“Uzbek filmmaking is clearly based on the Indian model, which annually produces the most films worldwide. The quantity of films clearly prevails over the quality of films there. As a result, not a single Uzbek film has managed to make it into a class ‘A’ film festival or won an international prize. Uzbek filmmaking suffers from a lack of creative personnel: there are no writers, no young directors, no sound engineers, no operators”, said Gulnara Abikeeva, an expert from the international film festival “Eurasia”, established by the Confederation of Filmakers’ Unions from the CIS and Baltic countries in 1998.
Well-known director, Yusuf Razykov, a former director for “Uzbekfilm”, thinks that Uzbek cinema has a long tradition and that one can speak of a “new wave” of Uzbek cinema. His film, “Orator”, about the stability of the folk traditions that lived through Bolshevisation, is one of the most popular of the post-Soviet period.
“The main problem with Uzbek cinema is the lack of scripts. There is no system for creative work with scripts and because of this, we have the presence of low-brow films”, said Razikov. He thinks that up until now Uzbek cinema has not been able to attain the level of the Soviet era .
“Even now, Shukhrat Abbasov’s ‘Tashkent; City of Bread’ is the acme of our studios. The film, shot in the aesthetics of Italian neo-realism, is still very popular today”, Razykov said.
Abbasov, a revered director of Soviet and Uzbek cinema, rarely shoots films now, but he does follow the post-Soviet Uzbek film industry.
“Like before, films are coming out without any real conflict or confrontation of ideas. Only with the works that deeply reflect the specificities of an era, the changes in a society and the character of the people will cinema be able to appeal to filmgoers, touch their hearts and win a worthy place in the history of world cinema”, he said.
Uzbek cinema is subject to censorship by the national agency Uzbekkino. No studio can begin production without receiving script approval from Uzbekkino.
The agency also allocates public money for the production of artistic and documentary films. It was this agency’s decision that banned the showing of “300” in Uzbekistan, because of the “film’s promotion of the idea of ethnic hatred and violence”, said an Uzbekkino official who wished to remain anonymous.
Besides “300”, more than 20 other films are prohibited from being shown in Uzbekistan for the same reason. Amateur film director Sergei Tikhomirov’s “Tashkentskaya brigada” (“Tashkent Brigade”), Aleksei Balabanov’s “Zhmurki” (“Blind Man’s Bluff”), the recent Hollywood hit “Brokeback Mountain” are among those on the black list.
This prohibition includes Uzbek television. Re-editing and cutting out dialogues and intimate scenes that, according to officials, “are not in accordance with the mentality of the Uzbek people” are normal practice. They are particularly selective with Hollywood films.
“Turkish or Indian series are closer to our mentality; I’m not afraid to watch these kinds of films with my daughter. The western serials – it’s all just perverse –adolescent girls shouldn’t be watching such things”, said housewife Sevar.
The abundance of these television series has led the Uzbek government to understand that it must compete by producing its own series, and thus in June 2008 it sanctioned the complex government program “National Series”.
According to documents from the Uzbek State Television and Radio Company, the plan is to create a large domestic industry for the production of television series and also soap operas like those from Mexico and Brazil.
To achieve this, a special film studio has been built in Tashkent. The soap operas already filmed are being broadcast on state and private television stations. However, actors complain that the pay is low. One day of shooting only pays US $20 to $50 for the lead role. Uzbek stars earn as little as US $2,000 to $5,000 for a film.
Murod Razhabovis is the highest paid Uzbek film actor. He thinks it is possible to create a cinematic masterpiece if the film has a solid budget and good motivation for the actor.
“Our actors are no worse than foreign ones. Perhaps, in terms of technology we are behind the foreign countries with developed film industries. We could speak of competing with other countries if our sponsors would provide us with millions of dollars to produce a film”, he said.
“We must have a good understanding of what the budget should be for a fairy-tale film, a modern urban location-shot film and a complex studio-shot film. If we want to compete with other countries—for example: Russia—we must not spare money on production. Our filmgoers miss Uzbek cinema; we must give them quality production – and in modern cinemas. Meeting this challenge is our duty”, said Razykov.