Our Self-Sufficiency Is The Reality
Interview with Yusup Razikov
Yusup Razikov walked into the dying Uzbek cinema, shot his film The Orator and turned the situation all around. He is the one who made the world talk about the phenomenon of the new Uzbek cinema and made everybody believe that the national Uzbek cinema will not only revolve on local orbits.
Yusup Razikov was born in 1957 in Tashkent. He studied philosophy at Uzbek State University and worked as an electrician at the Uzbekfilm Studio the same time. In 1981 he was accepted in VGIK to the screenwriting workshop of Valentin Chernikh. After graduating from VGIK, Yusup Razikov had a two-year internship with Mosfilm Studio, where The Wolfhound (1987) and The Very Loyal Wife (1990) were made based on his screenplays. In total, there were six films based on his scripts were produced.
In the beginning of the ’90s he returned to Tashkent and worked as director and screenwriter of Dolma and The Order, the first Uzbek soap operas. In 1998 he made a triumphal return to cinema by shooting The Orator. In 1999 Yusup Razikov was appointed president of Uzbekfilm Studio.
Yusup Razikov directed and wrote scripts for the following films:
Gulnara: Yusup, first you shot The Orator and made the world cinema community talk about the new Uzbek cinema, and then the fact that you were appointed president of Uzbekfilm Studio, for me personally, were the signs that here – the time of our generation has come. Once upon a time we studied in VGIK and never thought that we would define the politics in the cinema of our countries. Of course, I do not mean the bureaucracy but defining the artistic goals. I am curious: how do you feel in this difficult role?
Yusup: In reality I am taking it all with much less grand attitude. I understand that at Uzbekfilm Studio different generations of film directors work and all of them have the right of artistic self-expression. The other story is that the young generation left cinema because it is not a profitable venture. Some went into business; some into advertising and some into television. But I wish that they will make big films because our time is running out, too.
Gulnara: On whom of the young film director would you bet?
Yusup: I hope that the true filmmakers – Nazim Abbasov, Askhat Fatkhullin, Ilim Yuldashev and Sanzhar Babayev will return to cinema. They exist; I just have to create the environment for them. They all have good training and they are young. They can work and work interestingly and excellently. It just happened that they were pushed aside. Now my main headache is how to get them back into cinema.
Gulnara: It was only a year ago when we shared your success because The Orator was screened in The Panorama program at the Berlin Film Festival. Already then you were talking about your next film called The Kingdom of Women. In 2000 The Kingdom of Women was shown in the main competition program in the Moscow Film Festival but didn’t receive any awards. I think the jury expected something like The Orator…
Yusup: First of all, I would like to start by saying that I don’t consider The Kingdom of Women my failure. It’s just for many people this kind of film happened to be unexpected. If I cut ten minutes out of the picture, it would’ve been a personal journal type short narrative. I admit that in this case Razikov the director caved in to Razikov the screenwriter. I wanted to make a picture that would be built on externally illogical actions but fully appropriate to the internal life of the main character.
Gulnara: Can you tell me if I understood it right – the moment when the main character extends his hands to be cemented in a wall, means a certain voluntary escape into the other world, isn’t it?
Yusup: Yes. Absolutely. When he wakes up, his hands are already wrapped in bandages. So the viewer should have this sense of transition. And the main character’s dependence on the doctor is a parallel to a writer’s dependence on his characters.
Gulnara: The more I think about this film the more I like it. Because it is not as simple as it looks at first sight. I apologize for asking this, but according to the film, you have very complicated relationships with women, don’t you?
Yusup: A man who grew up surrounded only by women is a whole issue of course. First, I grew up surrounded by women. I’ve had five sisters, a grandmother, an aunt and a mother. The subject of relationships with women attracts me like a magnet and I never can be indifferent about it. A woman exists in different dimensions – mother, sister, wife, lover and, finally, unattainable dream. But also there is an Asian understanding of a woman. In The Kingdom of Women I attempted to discuss it.
Gulnara: What does the character of Baktigul, whom the main character doesn’t want to recognize, symbolize?
Yusup: Baktigul represents something that the main character didn’t notice. He understood that there, around him, so-called love was waiting for him. But he was too busy to notice it. He is spinning on the same circle over and over again: his family, his mistress, his female student, etc. He is so tired of it that he decides to escape to a different place. This is why he travels to the city of women.
Gulnara: You know, Yusup, talking with you, I realized that neither in Kazakhstan nor in Kyrgyzstan, or even previously in Uzbekistan, was there a film study about women. The character of a woman-mother existed as well as a woman-lover – seductress or femme fatale – but our East had never a deep character study of a female. How did viewers accept this picture in Tashkent?
Yusup: I’ve got an impression that it evoked self-respect. Everybody used to look at this matter through the prism of melodrama, actually Indian melodrama, and my film was something new – conceptual and serious. For some reason melodrama is considered the most spineless genre in the East; however it is the toughest genre to work in.
In general, I think that for a long time a romantic perception of filmmaking prevailed in Uzbek cinema. It was a period of unstructured film but with a very romanticized attitude towards the field. As a result, we had unprofessional filmmaking for the sake of filmmaking and cinematic kitsch. The recent five years lost to this romanticized filmmaking without any censorship. At best, it produced three or four decent films. Everything else was unbalanced and incoherent melodrama.
Gulnara: In 1999 in Anapa, at the Kinoshok Film Festival, a retrospective of modern Uzbek films was presented in breadth. And I remember that Viktor Matizen, a film critic, said about it: "The chronoscope of time reversed in Uzbek cinema…" How do you feel about it?
Yusup: He was right. But the main question is: is this a "plus" or "minus"? The period of regression is a very important stepping stone. It’s like the growing pain. Because it is impossible to reach to other worlds without a sense of self-worth and self-sufficiency. The consciousness has to ripen and it ripens only when it undergoes the search of self-identity.
Gulnara: Do you consider the Central Asian region as a whole?
Yusup: In the present situation Uzbeks are ahead of the others. When all the republics declared their independence, it turned out that Uzbekistan could be totally self-sufficient. We build new factories; produce agricultural products and so on. I think that Central Asian unification is a myth. And our self-sufficiency is the reality. Uzbek cinema, maybe, is the only one that has the major support from the state in the region of the post-Soviet Union republics. We developed a program, according to which the State budget finances six feature films, 40 edited reels of documentary, four edited reels of animation and four edited reels of children’s films every year. We have an additional program of video and soap opera development. It is obvious that our government stimulates the growth of Uzbek cinema. Our viewers go to our films and expect new ones. It is important for us now to be internationally recognized. And the esthetic innovations are the work of our artists, and we stand on the threshold of these discoveries. You can see it in some of our pictures.
May 23, 2001, Moscow
Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003
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