Central Asia



I Cannot Be Fully Happy…

(Interview with Khodzhakuli Narliyev)

It is impossible to imagine Turkmen cinema without Khodzhakuli Narliyev. His filmmaking established all the milestones of Turkmen cinema.

He was born in 1937. In 1963, three years after graduating from VGIK, Khodzhakuli Narliyev worked as cinematographer on The Competition (director Bulat Mansurov), a film that became very important for the national cinema. As a cinematographer, Khodzhakuli Narliyev shot four feature films. As a director, he made the most significant films in Turkmen cinema. The Bride (a feature film of 1972) is considered to be the calling card of Turkmen cinema. In recent years he has served as first secretary of the Film Union of Turkmenistan.


1970 – Man Overboard

1972 – The Bride

1975 – When a Woman Saddles a Horse

1977 – Be Able to Say No

1980 – Jamal Tree

1983 – Karakum: 45˚ C in the Shade

1985 -- Fragy, Who Was Separated From Happiness

1990 -- Mankurt

Gulnara: I remember the beginning of the ’90s. Your film union held Feryuza Spring, an annual film seminar for young filmmakers of Central Asia. In 1992 Kumush Yarimai (Silver Crescent), an outstanding film festival, took place and declared the existence of Turkmen cinema. At that time we all had the feeling that we were standing on the threshold of the renaissance of our national cinemas, didn’t we?

Khodzhakuli: Yes, it was a totally different time. In 1989 our film studio received 80 acres of land on the outskirts of Ashkhabad. We started to build a Turkmen aul (village) of the nineteenth century. Moscow Film Union provided half the funds and our republic provided the other half. We already bought 25 kibitkas (nomadic covered wagons). Every kibitka was supposed to represent a traditional craft of the Turkmen people. In Bukhara we ordered beautiful giant gates. Some stylized kibitkas were ordered from Mosfilm Studio. It was supposed to be a back lot under the open sky and a tourist attraction popularizing the history of Turkmenistan. We intended it to be financially self-sufficient. But the project was never realized. We had to return everything, including construction materials, even cement blocks and foundations that had already been laid.

Gulnara: Yes, Turkmen cinema of the ’90s was an abortive new wave. I think it’s a great tragedy when people cannot express themselves on the screen. How would you define your generation of filmmakers -- what kind of problems did you have to solve and what do you see in the future for the young generation?

Khodzhakuli: In the ’50s we had a very strong student movement. The ministry of Culture sent, literally, train cars full of students to apply to Moscow schools every year. When all of these students came back, a growth spurt took place in all the industries. The results became obvious in the ’60s. This is was the major period of the formation of the new generation. During that period, The Competition, the first one-hundred-percent Turkmen film, was created. Bulat Mansurov directed it. This picture was widely shown and received many prizes and awards. Chingiz Aitmatov wrote about this picture: "The music that beats swords into ploughshares…" Everything was falling into place. Every year young people graduated from VGIK and came back to build the second wave of Turkmen cinema. It continued until the ’90s.

Gulnara: In my opinion, the 1990s manifested the second wave of Turkmen cinema because the ideological chains of the Soviet system were broken, and now many film directors could refer to the ethnic themes. Who, in your opinion, expressed himself in the most interesting way in the beginning of the ’90s?

Khodzhakuli: Shikhmurat Annamuratov, Byul-Byul Mamedov, Kerim Annanov – they all made their débuts at that time. Annamuratov received a prize in Paris. Kerim Annanov created very personal and meaningful cinema and his films received a number of awards in film festivals. From an older generation – Usman Saparov, Khodzhadurdi Narliyev, Eduard Redzhepov, Bairam Abdullayev – received truly deserved acknowledgment. But the second wave was interrupted by lack of finances and also because very soon the studio ended its existence.

Gulnara: In the beginning of the ’90s Turkmens took many of steps towards bringing Central Asian filmmakers closer together. Seminars, film festivals…It seems that especially your generation had a strong sense of Central Asian unity of arts and culture. Is that right?

Khodzhakuli: We had an opportunity to get together a few times a year and it gave us a unique chance to grow together, mutually enrich each other and become friends. Tolmush Okeyev, Bolot Shamshiyev, Shukhrat Abbasov – they are all my friends. Every time we got together, we shared this feeling of doing the same deed, and that every one of us was trying to show the world his own national culture, and because we are neighbors, we could discuss our common, Central Asian, culture. Now, when one cannot afford to come visit and another is not allowed to, we become strangers. The connections built through the centuries decay because of this.

Gulnara: One can say that you are the number one film director of Turkmenistan. You made eight films and they all received high-ranking awards in the Soviet Union and abroad. Do you consider yourself a happy man?

Khodzhakuli: On a personal level – yes, I am a happy man. But I want to tell you one joke set during the prohibition period of alcohol in the Soviet Union. Two drunks waited in a liquor store line for a very long time. And right before their turn came, all the alcohol was sold out. They very disappointed and upset. They complained and cursed but finally one said to the other: "It’s all right, Vanya. At least we have being drunk and happy. I pity our children. They will never know what that is." In the same way, I have drunk my share. But young filmmakers have no opportunity to make films. I wish they had even more opportunity than we did in our time. What if our cinema will disappear? It is very sad to me, and this is why I cannot be fully happy.

March, 2001, Almaty


Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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