Short films from the Davra Collective at the goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European Film7 min read

 In Central Asia, Review, Reviews

The Davra Collective is made up of a growing roster of Central Asian artists who make experimental art films, performances, installation work, and exhibitions focused on the region, headed by Saodat Ismailov. The collective has been premiering their signature film collections in the festival circuit, including the Eye Filmmuseum festival in the Netherlands, on view until June 4th, and the goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European Film in Germany earlier this May.

The 59-minute compilation comprised two films from Kazakhstan, three from Tajikistan, one from Uzbekistan, and one from Kyrgyzstan. Here’s an overview of the notable points about each film.

Short Films from Kazakhstan: Show Me Your Words by Aïda Adilbek and All the Dreams we Dream by Asel Kadyrkhanova

The first film from Kazakhstan, Send Me Your Words, is a quirky, wordless film that relies on ordinary sounds that are familiar yet uncomfortable. The film starts off completely in the dark, with increasing noise and visuals until it submerges viewers back into the dark after a jarring performance. While the film is only two minutes, it feels much longer, leaving the viewer with a lingering uncanny sensation. 

Director Aïda Adilbek explores ideas of womanhood through cultural codes, communication, and the intangible simplicity of domestic life. She has been interviewed extensively for up-and-coming Kazakh language news sources like The Village, and Russian language outlets like Manshq, Art of Her, and Steppe. Long format interviews do this artist justice as there is so much meaning and embedded cultural codes behind all her work, worthy of a conversation for clarity. This short digest of a film gives the viewer a good taste of Adilbek’s documentary style and serves as commentary on the lasting legacy of the cultural zeitgeist that environments like soviet blocs have manifested.

The second film from Kazakhstan, All the Dreams we Dream, is a non-linear oneiric narrative, consisting of various stop-motion effects created by charcoal drawings. It was produced based on the artist’s response to the memoirs of poet, film director, and scriptwriter Gafu Kairbekov. The film highlights how Kazakhs who survived the famine of 1930-1933 have all passed away, and serves as both a memorial and mourning of their dreams and aspirations that were never documented. Director Asel Kadyrkhanova‘s work looks at memory with a specific focus on cultural memory and trauma in post-Soviet Kazakhstan.

The film opens with an animation on a black-and-white photo of famine refugees sleeping, panning over the children and elderly’s sweet faces as they dream. “Memories of no one that travels from soul to soul to remind of what happened on this earth” are words that the artist splices throughout this scene, echoing the innate connection people past and present have with ecology. Viewers see a human body transform into a traditional yurt and children metamorphosing into a black raven, interwoven between realistically accurate depictions of Soviet machinery, politicians, and policies that directly relate to forced collectivization and the systemic disruption of the nomadic way of life.

This 22-minute film is the longest in the entire shorts collection, but it’s a must-see. Kadyrkhanova is an artist who shoulders the trauma of her entire nation and fearlessly channels it into art.

Short films from Tajikistan: Hard to Digest by Naziri Karimi, Namad by Madina Saidshoeva, and I Met a Girl by Alla Rumyantseva

Emerging artist Nazira Karimi is the director of Hard to Digest. The six-minute film plays like a homemade family videotape depicting joyful family celebrations. The German-speaking voice-over throughout the film shares the artist’s pilaf recipe with the audience. This film is a mish-mash of nostalgic associations via a glimpse into modern day life within the diaspora. Karimi is part of several artist-run Central Asia-based grassroots art groups: Davra Collective, Mata Collective, and Ruyo Journal

Partly an ethnography, partly a slice of life, Namad is a six-minute film that depicts Pamir women dying wool to weave traditional namad rugs. Sitting in the circle in traditional wear, intergenerational women are all smiles as they partake in this historic tradition in a seamless community. Evident is the joyful group-aspect of rug making, and at no part of the process depicted is a woman working alone or without contagious laughter and gossip. “Khosh omadid!” is repeated in the background like a mantra. This phrase translates to “a warm welcome to you!”, a greeting that all Persian-speaking peoples share and pronounce similarly. 

Director Madina Saidshoeva created this film with the support of the Bactria Cultural Centre, European Spaces of Culture, Ambassade de France au Tadjikistan, Goethe institute, The Little Earth, Zero Exclusion Carbon Poverty, and many other NGOs focused on preservation and sustainability through the arts. 

The Davra Collective has produced many captivating films, but perhaps the most compelling is I Met a Girl. In this six-minute film, director Alla Rumyantseva skillfully contrasts segments of the Tajikfilm classic I Met a Girl (Ya vstretil devushku, 1956) with modern day footage from interviews with modern Tajik women.

The film’s main character, Lola, is a coming-of-age girl with a high-pitched and naive voice, typical of young Soviet actresses of that era, matched by innocent demeanor and their giant eyes — think Natalya Selenzyova in Operation ‘Y’ & Other Shurik’s Adventures (1965). Lola dreams of singing in a choir, but her father refuses to allow it, relenting only if her future husband permits it. Another scene depicts Lola’s friend casually mentioning that Lola is a delicate flower, lucky to have such a caring father. Interspersed within the old Soviet film’s characteristic graininess is sharp footage of modern Tajik women sharing about their lives. One woman laments that she couldn’t become a doctor because of marriage, while another is determined to work any job to provide a better future for her children. A woman with a worker’s headdress and a broom shares that she wanted to be an actress but was not allowed to pursue her dreams. The film’s ending is a clever conclusion to a feminist film about outdated traditions, and it leaves a deep emotional impact on the viewer.

Short Film from Uzbekistan: Autonomy by Zumrad Mirzalieva

Autonomy is a seven-minute film of a split-screen montage contrasting footage of stairs to the Hazrati Doud cave in Samarkand, a place where locals pray to St. David for conception, with footage of an Uzbek tradition to place children on a newlywed’s bed during the wedding night to wish fertility. The film raises the question of whether fulfillment for Uzbek women is limited to motherhood alone.

Filmmaker Zumrad Mirzalieva is a prolific documentary photographer and graduate of CCA LAB, a research laboratory of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Tashkent that develops contemporary art and cultural practices in Uzbekistan, as well as formulating new readings and a new understanding of the region’s artistic heritage.

Short film from Kyrgyzstan: Escape from Freedom by Art Group STREKOOZA

The final film from the Davra Collective is the seven-minute Escape from Freedom. Another split-screen montage, this film shows eagles, which have been the historic companions to falconers and hunters in Kyrgyzstan, juxtaposed with footage of ongoing excavation and deforestation in the region, which directly impacts the birds’ habitats.

The Art Group STREKOOZA consists of five members: Bermet Borubaeva, Nellya Djamanbaeva, Oxana Kapishnikova, Alima Tokmergenova, and Diana Ukhina. The five artists joined the Davra Collective as part of the Chilla residency.

The Davra Collective’s short film compilation at the goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European Film showcased up and coming talent in Central Asian experimental art films. Viewers were able to experience clever representations of Central Asia’s complex history, cultural heritage, and contemporary issues all through the eyes of female filmmakers. I highly recommend the entire collection, though my favorites are Show Me Your Words by Aïda Adilbek and I Met a Girl by Alla Rumyantseva.

Feature Image: All the Dreams We Dream
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