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26.01.2019 00:00

Report written by Sharofat Arabova (Tadjikistan)participant of 2nd Assembly of Asian film-critics - FIPRESCI members at the frame of 17th Dhaka IFF, 13.01.2019 


The 2nd Asian Film Critics Assembly - AFCA (13-14.01.2019) in the upcoming 17th Dhaka International Film Festival - DIFF, in association with the International Film Critics Association of Bangladesh - IFCAB. 



Eurocentrism and the Orientalism in film criticism on Tajik films


Tajikistan was a part of the Soviet Union from 1924 to 1991. Before that this region was included in the Bukharan Emirate under the patronage of the Russian Empire. What I mean by eurocentric culture at the start of the film productions in Tajikistan, I mean not the Western European culture but the Soviet culture which introduced us to the values of western civilization, western education and more importantly, the cinema itself.

We can recall Vasily Vereshagin, a famous Russian painter (end of 19-beginning of 20th century) who used to portray dervishes, medieval Central Asian architecture, sufis,  guards in the colorful ikat robes, pyramids out of the skulls, thus presenting the Central Asian space as a mysteriously wild never-land to the viewers of Saint-Petersburg and Moscow. He was also accused number of times for his critical approach towards the military activities of the Colonial Russia as portrayed in his paintings. The region was then called Turkestan. The first films shot were the ethnographic documentaries by Russian filmmakers - Viktor Erofeev, Vladimir Shneiderov. They explored and reported the rare and unusual scenes of the land to the Western eyes. Right from the start of the film production in Tajikistan, the young republic was perceived as being able to produce only the fairytales, or historical-revolutionary films with the patriotic message about the establishment of the Soviet rule (Ex. When Amirs die (1932), The Live God (1934), Dokhunda (1936), Sheherezade trilogy, Nasreddin series). The main State Tajikfilm Studio also had an unofficial name ‘Basmachfilm’ up to 1991 (for about 70 years) named after the ‘basmachi’ who were the local freedom-fighters, the usual antagonists of the Soviet soldiers in Tajik films. Basically basmachi were originally the supporters of the traditional values. The Tajikfilm Studio was mainly involved in the production of the films with anti-religious messages till end of ‘80s. The anti-religious nature of the films mostly mistook the values of the traditional culture/etiquette for backwardness, for something being not modern anymore and that’s why it should be fought against. The film criticism on Tajik Soviet cinema used to support this outlook and play the major role in directing the filmmakers to produce films with certain messages.


The Tajikfilm studio was nurtured to produce the oriental stories which were exoticised to fit into a vision of the fairy lands, firstly to attract the Soviet spectators (outside of the republic) and secondly, to emphasize the outreach of the Soviet rule in the distant and backward regions.

Even trilogy of Shahnameh directed by Boris Kimiagarov was a stylized piece of work in which the fashion trends of ‘60-‘70s were fusioned with the periodic helmets, armors and jewelleries. Some of the Tajik filmmakers, like Bako Sadykov, Bakhtiyar Khudoynazarov, Jamshed Usmanov, started using the allegory and stylization more often by the end of ‘80s through ‘90s and beginning of 2000. Their works merged the fine lines between the exotization of the subject, oriental poetic imagery, the allegorical stylization and generalization, and the reality of Tajikistan.


How did the Western film criticism perceive the films of the Soviet republics? It didn’t differentiate the films of the Soviet Central Asian republics from the rest of the Soviet cinema which was perceived as a general term for the films from USSR. Almost the entire film critique about the Tajik films, meant for the foreign reader at that period, was written by the Soviet film journalists and art critics. It was translated to foreign languages and published in the film magazines for the export purpose, like the Soviet Screen. These materials were mostly of informative nature, more like an advertisement kit of the film rather than analysis. While approaching the analysis in these articles, the critics used to mention the importance of the social significance of the film and it was created according to the ‘guidelines’ of the recent government reports promoting relevant subjects. Thus the Soviet values used to be wrapped in the national/traditional film form.


The choice and the preferences of the Western film festivals promote a paradigm imposed on Eastern societies through which they have to be looked at and positioned as. Most of the times it is not the paradigm of the country the film is created in, but rather it is the paradigm of the Western spectator. Thus the involvement in the relevant issues, politicization of the content and exoticism may provide an audience the experience which is not available to them via medium of cinema. For example, The politicization of the content in most of the Western film reviews of Kosh ba Kosh (1993) and Luna Papa (1999) directed by Bakhtiyar Khudoynazarov which underlined the socio-political background and its metaphors rather than analyze the films’ aesthetics.


Attention is focused on the dark aspects and the exaggeration of certain details in the films to sensationalize the audience. We can recall the famous term of ‘chernukha’ in Soviet cinema.


This Eurocentric tendency which can be now be seen in Hollywood films is also spreading to different national cinemas when their content reflects a fight with terrorism associated with Islam and Asia. It can be interpreted as another example of the antagonistic duality of West and East.


Noteworthy to mention is the dominance of the Eurocentric point of view in film criticism on Tajik cinema which was spread in ‘90s following the migration of many known Tajik film personalities abroad -  to Moscow, Berlin, Paris etc. due to Civil War. The foreign critics who witnessed the films produced by Tajik filmmakers abroad began to write about the Tajik cinema ‘living in emigration’ and being dead within the country. While many known filmmakers remain in the country and continue to create if not full-features which were extremely hard to produce at that period but the documentaries and short films. The point of view of Migrated Cinema to the West still exists in writings even on contemporary state of cinema of Tajikistan. While in my view it is more appropriate to call the cinema practices by the filmmakers of Tajik origins abroad as a cinema of Tajik Diaspora.


Sharofat Arabova, (PhD.), film historian, filmmaker, (Tajikistan)