Articles & Notes — February 2, 2012 at 8:31 am

Azerbaijan: “comissioned films” strangle free spirit of independents

Couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a few film related news on Azerbaijan, that made me feel sorry once again for country’s “success” in the film business.

It seems like all of the recent movies shot in Azerbaijan are being commissioned by either Ministry of Culture and Tourism or by some other government related organization.

There’s no independent spirit, which is a shame, or course. This has been going on for quite a while, and it concerns even those films which were shot by foreigners. Below are a couple of examples.

He was a Giant with Brown Eyes (2012)
Eileen Hofer is a director from Switzerland that recently completed her work on a 75-min half-documentary film about Azerbaijan, titled “He was a Giant with Brown Eyes”.

The film premiered on 31st of January at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. This is Hofer’s first full feature film, which was supported by Azerbaijani “Buta Arts” Center.

Story takes place between Azerbaijan and Switzerland. Mostly, its a family drama. After their parents’ divorce, Sabina had to move to Switzerland with her mother, while Narmina stayed with her father in Baku. Five years later Sabina returns to Azerbaijan at the age of 17 to live with her father. The father however intends to remarry and has not yet told his daughters. At the same time, Narmina is preparing her farewell to her boyfriend Kerim, who has enlisted for one year of military service. Scene after scene the film sketches the portrait of an Azerbaijani family living between the Western world and Muslim and Russian traditions.

I haven’t seen the film, so I am not going to bash it, or claim its one of the best films ever made about Azerbaijan by a foreign filmmaker. I can add however, that the local azeri press has been uber positive on the film, saying “a simple, instructive and touching story… it’s amazing how good the young Swiss director was able to show the mentality of Azeri people, mostly unknown to her”.

There are several factors why the film is being praised like this. First, according to the information online, the director has Turkish blood running in her, so for some people here its undoubtedly a plus.

Another reason, which is a lot more simple – “everything positive about us – is good, so spread the word around”. I doubt that if the film had something negative, local press would ever bother covering it.

Additional Influence aka Human Savior (2012)
Another film is more action packed. “Additional Influence” by Azerbaijani director Elkhan Jaffarov is a story about some Azeri scientists who created some sort of a zombifying drug in the early 90s on KGB’s orders. Later, one of the scientists decides to use it for healing people, but of course, as it usually happens, there are also some bad guys who intend to use the “zombifying drug” in other purposes.

According to the reports, the film mostly tells about how police works in Azerbaijan. There is action in the film, as you can see in the photos below.

This particular movie was shot by the order of Azerbaijan’s ministry of Culture and Tourism. After film’s release, the crew of the film was awarded with diplomas and money from country’s Interior Ministry.

The point is – if this wasn’t for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the film probably would have never been made, since no one wants to invest money into something that’s undeveloped. There’s little or no demand for local movies at all.

While having stunning locations for shootings, the country prices are high, and this deters people from investing money into this sphere. And those movies that are being shot or rolled into production – are mostly “commissioned”. Something tells me, this situation with local cinema isn’t going to change anytime soon.



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