The Rheinmain Short Film Award Competition at the goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European Film4 min read

 In Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Review, Reviews, Russia

This year, goEast celebrated its fourth edition of the Rheinmain Short Film Award, which featured 2,500 Euros in prize money. All of the films selected were made by indigenous filmmakers or those representing marginalised groups, opening up discussion about the “decolonisation” of post-Soviet film, one of the themes present in this edition of the festival. All the films are now on tour throughout the Rhein-Main region. We have rounded up some of our thoughts on these films, with the exception of winner No Nation Without a Culture, which was reviewed separately.

Uzbekistan: Aralkum by Mila Zhluktenko and Daniel Asadi Faezi and Tale by Kamila Rustambekova

The competition opened with Zhlutenko and Faezi’s short documentary Aralkum, which examines the tragedy of the Aral Sea. Scenes of life in the former fishing villages, shots of taxidermied animals that used to populate the region, and quotes from the sea’s colonial past are interwoven throughout the 14-minute film, creating an artistic and moving depiction of this environmental disaster. The film highlights how quickly things can change for the worse, and how people are the root cause of so many environmental crises we are now facing. It also highlights how such crises harm not just us, but also thousands of flora and fauna, many of which cannot survive in the new, harsher environments. 

Rustambekova’s Tale takes a different approach, only tentatively alluding to its main topic, that of homosexuality in Uzbekistan. In this fictional 12-minute short, we see a mother struggle with her son’s unorthodox attraction to a fellow villager, though no direct actions are seen on-screen. In some ways, this seems a cop-out; by not showing what queer love actually is, Rustambekova risks perpetuating stereotypes. However, this choice does allow Rustambekova to focus on what motherhood means, and how love for a child can overcome prejudice — though in the end, the son is still forced to leave the village to survive. The filmmaking is quietly beautiful in this short film, with Rustambekova using very soft lighting to create an almost nostalgic feel. 

Kyrgyzstan: Neither on the Mountain, nor in the Field by Gulzat Egemberdieva

Similarly to Aralkum, this 18-minute film by Gulzat Egemberdieva attempts to weave between the contemporary and the historical by placing old archival materials and ethnographic sketches next to her own videos from the recent past overlaid with telephone conversations. It is a complex film, and unfortunately, the jumpiness between shots — creating a feeling of cacophony — can make it hard to understand exactly what Egemberdieva intends as her main message. 

Russia: Aital by Vladimir Munkuev and Exultation by Arslan Manasyan

Vladimir Munkuev’s Aital again focuses on how the past is intertwined with the present. In this 23-minute short fiction, Aital, who has inherited his status as a shaman from his Yakutian ancestors, works with a partner to scam the gullible. The first “patient” is a man suffering from impotence — though his wife believes a shaman will help, the audience learns that the man grew up in an area where nuclear bombs had been tested during the Soviet period, thus likely rendering him sterile. Though an offhand comment, it provides important context regarding how Soviet experiments are still affecting people’s lives to this day. 

Though Aital starts off strong, it attempts to do too much in too short a time. The main case dealt with in the film is that of a stubborn teenager who ends up committing suicide after a meeting with Aital. The line between reality and another world is blurred, but before anything can be resolved, the film ends. In many ways, this short felt as if a teaser for a feature film — maybe one day Munkuev can expand on this short to create such a work. 

In Arslan Manasyan’s Exultation, the focus is once more on how sexuality is perceived outside of the West. The film is set in Kalmykia, the only predominantly Buddhist region in Europe. Taking place over a single night, Manasyan follows an androgynous youth as they deal with a violent event coming full circle. The cinematography is expressively beautiful; however, though only 16-minutes, the film drags, the emphasis more on filmmaking than on storytelling. 

Ukraine: Khayt by Sashko Protyah

In this fictional documentary set in 2068, Sashko Protyah imagines the future of Mariupol, one where the culture of the Azov Greek ethnic minority is celebrated. In this very experimental 9-minute work, an unnamed narrator, an artist from Rotterdam, is participating in an art residency in the city. He decides to ignore his assigned work, and instead seek out the Azov Greek music which permeates the city. The footage consists of 16mm film shots of the city from October 2021, before Russia’s destruction of the city, interspersed with scenes of two performing techno musicians. It is a fascinating film that records a much-needed hopeful future for the city. Protyah’s unique filmmaking stays with the viewer, long after the film is over. 

Through this collection of films, the Rheinmain Short Film Award successfully achieves its goal of highlighting indigenous filmmakers and marginalised groups. Many of the films provide valuable insight into the still ongoing effects of Russian and Soviet imperialism, as well as raise questions about what the future could hold. While there was only one winner, all of these filmmakers seem worth keeping an eye on.

Feature Image: Aital
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