Modern Cinema of Uzbekistan: Social Functions and Poetics
Cinema is one of the most effective factors contributing to the modernization of public consciousness. Therefore, understandably, it was the government who initiated a broad-base support for domestic film industry. Starting from 1996 the state budget has provided resources to produce 15 multi-reel films, 10 cartoons and a few dozens of documentaries every year.
Presently we have been seeing a situation when the nation's mythology environment, i.e. the mainstream of ideas, notions and values based on which a new generation of audience is educated and raised, is gradually moving from traditional films towards soap opera, and from movie theatres onto TV screens. In parallel, television serials are produced, which take about 20 percent of the national air time, while overall movie time, including play-based films, documentaries and cartoons, takes only 30-40 percent.
An obvious specificity of contemporary film-making process in Uzbekistan is the country's own numerous audience that has grown over the recent years - predominantly young people who visit cinema halls showing movies produced in the country. This important social phenomenon was noted, with some jealousy, by experts from the neighbouring countries during discussions held in Tashkent in November 2008 on the issues facing film-making industry in Central Asia. Presently, no other country in the region has a domestic audience so genuinely interested in the product of its national film industry.
Today, Uzbekistan has a cinema hall repertoire that mostly consists of domestic movies; infrastructure is changing, and a larger number of films are being produced, compared to early 1990s. In 2008 alone 68 films were put on screen in Uzbekistan; however, quantity does not always mean quality. To discover really good films, determine the level and trends in the development of Uzbek film-making art, and enhance social impact and quality of films being produced - these are the priority objectives of the current strategy in the domain of national cinematography. Key questions for the development of the national film-making industry are as follows: who the films are made for and what kind of films are these?
Three groups of "consumer" audience can be identified. The most influential of them is commercial movie goers. Today it is young people (aged 15-22) who constitute the main contingent of cinema audience. The country makes a lot of films for this most promising audience, and these films are produced mainly in private studios.
The second group comprises representatives of more senior generations. These people do not go to cinema halls and watch movies on television or on video. This audience prefers classic films and of course likes 'our old movies' such as Maftuningman, All Neighbourhood Talks About It, The Days Gone By, etc., which is proved by the fact that these films are shown frequently and repeatedly on TV. Of contemporary films one may include some by Z. Musakov. Yet, films intended for this audience have no prospects for being shown either in cinema halls, or on video, as due to their content and narration type they can "live" only on TV screen.
Finally, there is the third, least numerous group of professionals and movie connoisseurs able to appreciate the so-called 'author cinematography', both foreign and domestic. These films would include works by Y. Razykov, K. Kamalova, S. Nazarmukhamedov, and Y. Tuichiev.
Should our domestic film-making industry stake its development on mass or, rather "cash" films? Yes, we may still produce some number of alternative, author's films and find ourselves participating in film festivals (Yul bulsin, Vatan, Chashma, Yurt, etc). But unfortunately this is not a semantic mainstream in domestic cinematography that would be in demand by society and film aesthetics itself, yet as known, this is the line on which any national cinematography is based. Owing to the fact that domestic film industry employed directors such as Sh. Abbasov, R. Batyrov, M. Abzalov and many others, we used to have a quality mainstream. There also used to be a rather mature and remarkable tradition of author cinematography and poetic films. What are the current processes of interaction among these very different types of cinematography? Is there room for movie art in the framework of film-making industry? These are the most topical questions of today.
Documentary film-making in Uzbekistan requires a survival strategy. Unlike play-based cinematography which is still trying to fit into the socio-cultural situation and supporting infrastructure of film marketing that targets mass audience, the non-play-based cinematography is experiencing a very challenging process of staying alive. A state-owned and some private studios still make documentary films. Works by some Uzbek documentary film-makers such as T. Kalymbetov and Sh. Makhmudov have won prizes at international festivals. Television does broadcast documentaries to enrich its programmes, expecting, therefore, some commercial return, however indirect it may be. Thus, the alliance with television has left a noticeable mark on all aspects of documentary production. Now it has become quite common for a documentary film-maker to coordinate his creative urges with series and cycles devised by television channels. As no documentaries are ever shown in cinema halls, their present territory in most cases (the same is true for author cinematography) is limited to festivals. The same problems are facing animated cartoons.
Based on this seemingly paradoxical experience, one would like to emphasize the significance of international and national projects aimed at the development of film-making art in Uzbekistan, its promotion abroad, and the introduction of domestic audience into the gains of contemporary global cinematographic culture.
As positive examples one can refer to a number of projects that played an important role in the development of national cinematography and consolidated the social status of film-makers. These include a series of regional seminars on documentary films in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, such as "Renewed Dialogues" and "East-West: In Search for Identity". Through these forums the audience was introduced to some interesting work by Kazakh, Tajik and Russian documentary film-makers. Finally, they could also see some domestic documentary productions (Swiss Bureau for Development and Cooperation).
In 2003 Uzbekistan hosted a Festival of New Cinema of Uzbekistan. Organizers of a youth film festival for Central Asian countries "Tvorcheskiy Polyot" were the "Forum for Uzbekistan Culture and Art" Foundation, the embassies of Russia, Switzerland, and France, UNESCO Office in Uzbekistan, RosZarubezhTsentr, and Goethe Institute.
Of important value for appreciating the processes taking place in contemporary cinematography in Uzbekistan was the First Uzbekistan National Film Festival held in Tashkent in 2008. It was organized by the "Forum for Uzbekistan Culture and Art" Foundation and the Swiss Cooperation Bureau and under the Embassy of Switzerland, with support from the UzbekKino National Agency.
In conclusion we would like to note that the reform strategy in the domain of cinematography should be based on positive trends that appeared in film-making industry of Uzbekistan by the end of 1990s, taking into account the diversity of cultural, social, economic and demographic factors, which determine the specificities in the development of national cinematography.