How Initiatives of Almaty Citizens Evolve into Ongoing City Projects
Callum Voge, Project Syndicate: “To us, it is important not only to deliver the content but also broadcast opinions from Central Asia.”

Nargiz Shukenova, producer of the Clique Film Festival: “In my opinion, a demand for Central Asia has formed in various areas of culture.”

This year the team of the first independent amateur film festival Clique holds a documentary competition of Central Asia. This project evolved from the program of the main festival Clique.Doc, which consisted of documentary films. In an interview, producer of two projects Nargiz Shukenova told about the reason why conceptualization of Central Asia is in the centre of documentarians’ attention

  • How did you come up with the idea for separating and evolving the documentary project Clique.Doc into an independent competition?

Nargiz Shukenova: To answer this question, inevitably, we need to get back to the history of the festival. Clique itself was founded in the year 2014 when I and Boris Baikov won a scholarship from the Department of Culture of Almaty under the akimat. In that year, there was only a screening program of the festival. In 2015, we came to the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan with an offer to make a separate documentary program. Youth Program Coordinator Saule Meirmanova helped us a lot.

We understood that the documentary film is that interesting form that helps feel the modern breath; it reflects current problems. The program is always built in such a way that first of all, a certain topic is selected – the main thread. For instance, survival in closed spaces. So we showed “Grozny Blyuz” about the Chechen Republic and a family story where kids are kept at home, and they have to watch a film, play sketches from it, and thus survive. We continued exploring the theme of war and the theme of dictatorship. In 2016, we had “Turksib” and we realized that we wanted to develop the program in a different way, since in “Turksib” emerged the issue of self-identification and the language. We understood that we had to go deeper into the region.

Initially we discussed an education program, but then we realized that before dealing with such a serious think like education, we had to understand the needs of the region first. That is why it was decided to hold a contest that could reflect the actual state of the documentary film: the number of documentary film directors in the territory of Central Asia. This is how basically the idea emerged.

  • Nargiz, did you visit the other countries of the region last summer? Could you tell about that trip, please? What did you expect to see in those countries and what did you actually see?

N.S.: It was reasonable to travel to these countries and meet people in person, as one of the peculiarities of the region we came across is its closed nature and unavailability of information. For example, one of the best media in Kyrgyzstan is the website Kloop.kz – which is blocked in Kazakhstan. We don’t always have access to information, to each other. Just an example, planning a route, it is not always clear how to get from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan. It seemed more efficient to go on site. I met local filmmakers, all of which were speaking about their problems; and they are the same nearly everywhere: censorship, lack of the freedom of expression, infrastructure and basically, an adequate environment – all these impede new voices. Not all filmmaking industries, especially Uzbek and Tajik ones, to my mind, make the smooth transition from the planned economy to the market economy; there are problems with the shortage of budget, some corruption and impossibility to film on certain topics. I would point out these issues.

Each country has a small adequate medium of young filmmakers who start to set up art residences in collaboration with foreign foundations. Anisa Sabiri from Tajikistan created an art residence of the experimental film MyVision. They shot about eight films, including documentaries. In Uzbekistan, currently a new youth wing is being formed. So there is hope for youth as always. The most active community in Kyrgyzstan: they have a quite active art medium and the filmmaking medium in particular. They are considerate to one another, so that is why I guess they demonstrate a way better results for their existing economic situation.

– You began accepting applications a few months ago. How many applications have you got? How did filmmakers react to the competition?

N.S.: We posted the information about the competition on our web pages and website and used the platforms Film Freeway, Withoutabox – the most well-known sites for submission of applications in the filmmaking environment. Also, we set the criteria: we were interested in films: shot by people originally from our region, maybe filmed even abroad, shot by foreign specialists about Central Asia, and by Kazakhstanis in Kazakhstan. To the local address, we got quite few applications – they were around fifty. We unexpectedly received an enormous amount of applications from Bangladesh. To us, the premiere issue was important too – the films had to be shown for the first time in the territory of Kazakhstan. At some point, we had a crisis in the program, program director Boris started to look for films in catalogues of other festivals, on other websites, websites of universities and academies. Therefore, we found quite a lot of amazing films. It means Central Asia is the territory which does not always have access to all overseas platforms. For instance, it has been only two years to the Kazakhstani pavilion in Cannes, which is one of the main film markets, whereas Uzbekistan has got a pavilion only this year. Kyrgyzstan and other countries of Central Asia are poorly represented at foreign platforms. Moreover, nobody knows whether we are going there next year. Surely it hinders development. Actually, this is a big problem for our culture: every project exists either as a pilot one, or an experimental one, or as the last one.

Burning issues can be clearly traced in the competition program. Did you identify those initially, which resulted in the selection of worthy films?

I live in this territory, I work in culture with some meanings, I observe the art environment and modern theatre. These topics are sort of always on the agenda. What’s more, partners who we work with addressed these topics sooner or later. The contest is run in the week of human rights, we get support namely on this direction, which is rather important to us. I can’t say that we had such intentions, but authors who either came to this territory or live here cover these topics for a reason. There was no clear prescription to find films about deported families on behalf of their descendants or films about the ecological situation in the region. No wonder that in the region united by the common history and seventy years of the Soviet Union in the beginning and then twenty-six years of independence, we encountered the same problems, and, in my view, we are trying to solve them in a similar way. Also, we followed our inner principles, desire to talk about tolerance, transparency. These principles always were present in our main program, and Clique.Doc has always been about these: we have showed the film about Oleg Sentsov, films about the Republic of Chechnya. This is such a logical continuation of the program which was set back in 2015.

  • Who is your target audience here in Kazakhstan, in Almaty, do you think? Who might be interested in it?

It’s a big experiment for us: we do free film screenings, we have a competition program for the first time – and it’s a documentary. People still treat it differently. Owing to Katya Suvorova, when she released a documentary film “Zavtra More” – this film stopped being marginalized – it kind of stopped being unavailable.  Katya is a person who observes other people, her heroes are our contemporaries; that is why documentarians like no one else have to always stay in contact with their audience and public. I assume we are going to have an audience a bit different from Clique’s, since in Clique, we had Lars von Trier, Paolo Sorrentino, the Oscar nominees. Here it an absolutely different mood, a different inner state. We expect activists, human rights defenders, people that deal with the social agenda. Our discussions cover important social themes. I suppose that we will have more students, or on the contrary, people who are into the region. These days I happen to see more and more of exhibitions which focus on Central Asia. In my opinion, a demand for the region has formed in various areas of culture.