Central Asia



I Have No Motherland Except Turkmenia

(Interview with Usman Saparov)

If I had to name the top ten films of all people and times, without a doubt, Little Angel, Make Me Happy by Usman Saparov would be on this list.

Usman Saparov was born in 1952 in Ashkhabad. He graduated from the VGIK cinematographers program, and worked on eleven films as cinematographer. He directed sixty documentaries and seven feature films. Even during the Soviet times, his feature film The Masculine Upbringing (1982) received five international Grand Prizes. His motion picture Little Angel, Make Me Happy (1992) received about ten Grand Prizes from international film festivals. Since 1994, he has lived and worked in Moscow.

Gulnara: For many national cinemas in the former Soviet Union the history of filmmaking goes through several generations, however, you and your peers represent the just second generation of Turkmen cinema. Your picture Little Angel, Make Me Happy, in my opinion, marked the second round of international recognition of Turkmen cinema. The most important part of the film was not the national flavor but a new re-evaluation of our history. The film depicts the period of the Second World War. It conveys with finesse feelings of uncertainty, fragility and ambiguity Ė we all experienced these feelings again in the í90s.

Usman: You are right. It happened not only in Turkmenia but also on the entire territory of the former Soviet Union. It felt like the ground opened and we lost our home. Personally, this feeling of uncertainty, one can say, is a special part of my biography. I always felt myself an outcast; I felt that I didnít have the same rights as others. Ethnically, I am a Tatar but I lived in Turkmenia. The people around me didnít make me feel like an outsider. The rejection came from administrative offices. Maybe they didnít always spell it out but I felt it on my skin. But without this feeling I wouldíve never become who I am today. This is my life. With the fall of the Soviet Union, I realized that I am losing my Motherland. Because except for Turkmenia, I donít have another Motherland. Only three or four years had passed -- and it was real -- I had to leave the country. Political relationships slowly start to affect relationships between people. This is the most important topic for me. In my film, I showed the deportation of Germans from Turkmenistan during the period of Stalinís regime; and 50 years later, in the í90s, Germans started to emigrate from the country.

Gulnara: Not only Germans, and not only from Turkmenistan...For example, ten million people left Kazakhstan during the ten years of independence. For a grown-up person it is traumatic to abandon oneís home, friends, relatives and a job. Only their worries about the future of their children, their uncertainty and lack of any guaranties can be a stronger force than their connection to their homes.

Usman: I purposely constructed the first scenes of Little Angel, Make Me Happy in a way that viewers canít guess that a tragedy is taking place: cheerful music is playing and people are packing their belongings. Later, when one mother faints because she has to abandon her little son, it becomes clear that a horrible tragedy is unfolding. I couldíve shown that the children are alone in an abandoned village, but I wanted to convey to the viewers the triviality of the tragedy. How casually it happens -- this is what is scary. On the surface, it seems that nothing happens but the people understand that they must leave.

Gulnara: I watched your film several times and I never could watch it indifferently. You show a world turned from upside down: little children separated from their parents; teenagers dying on the war; people who left winding up in a jail; and finally, the tragic finale Ė children are burying grownups. I think, your talent to speak about these very difficult subjects so simply and without unnecessary inflection is one of the trademarks of your artistic style. How did you come up with the idea for this movie?

Usman: I was writing the script for this film with Lyudmila Popilina. We decided not to follow the classic path of narrative screenwriting. We organized everything according to a childís logic. Primarily, this is an emotional picture. I tried to use an imaginary tuning fork Ė the emotional world of a child: what he feels and what he thinks about people around him. Children donít have a sense of tragedy; they take events as they are. A glass of milk in a nest on a tree is just a glass of milk in a nest on a tree and little Georg believes that an angel brought this milk for him -- not a neighborly woman. An older girl tells him that angels donít bring milk; he looks for a cow in the village but doesnít find any. Only then he sees that Lizaís mother pumps her breast milk in a cup. He realizes that the older girl was right. In exchange, he brings a few potatoes to the woman. Also, children do not comprehend death, and this is why they take it as a part of life. They possess only pure belief, naive and colossal instinct to survive. Note, Georg speaks Russian to Russians, Turkmen with Turkmens, and German with his parents.

Gulnara: What did you want to tell us about Turkmens in this picture?

Usman: Turkmens live according to laws that had been formed throughout centuries. The laws of life are not always in accord with the morals of a religion or regulations of a state. They are much more profound and humane. This is what I wanted to demonstrate in my film: Turkmen people value human ethics more than anything else. The second main character in the film is Grandpa Khakim. He tries to protect, shelter and feed abandoned German orphans. When the little boy Yashka dies and Grandpa Khakim reads a prayer at his grave, the local governor accuses Grandpa Khakim of making an honorary funeral for an enemy of the people. Grandpa Khakim replies: "Do you know any other way to bury a human being?"

Gulnara: Which one of your films is your favorite?

Usman: My favorites are probably the ones that didnít come out the way I wanted them to. Of course, I feel very special about Little Angel, Make Me Happy because it expresses my personal pain.

Gulnara: What about The Masculine Upbringing? This film brought your first acclaim and you received a very prestigious government award for it.

Usman: I lived all my life in Turkmenia. I traveled it all. I know well and love the desert. I worked on many pictures there as cinematographer. This is why I describe this severe land and its gentle people with great pleasure.

Gulnara: My last question: What do you think about the future of Turkmen cinema?

Usman: I think that there is no cinema in Turkmenia today. It is my great regret. This art form has been crossed off from the list of the existence. The economic situation of the country is very difficult and people have a hard life there. Until this is going to change, the cinema will not stand on its feet. Practically all filmmakers remain inactive now. But I hope that one day it is going to change.

May 26, 2001, Moscow

Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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