The last twenty years have been a fundamentally new phase in the development of the national cinematography. Morphologically, Uzbekistan’s cinematography has retained its earlier format: fiction films, documentaries, animated cartoons, children’s movies, etc. In the very early 1990s, problems associated with inadequate funding became obvious, which adversely affected the country’s cinematography and, consequently, its social prestige. In fact, an important segment of the audience had been lost. In Uzbekistan, cinematographic process of early 1990s was not an easy one due to the economic crisis that pervaded the entire post-Soviet space. By the mid-1990s, however, owing to the government support, the situation in the national cinematography began to improve. A search for ideological alternatives to the socialist realism schemes in art also required some time to meet the challenge of creating new films and incorporating cinematography in the process of social rehabilitation. The principal achievement of this period has been the removal of the rigid framework in the film-making art and granting the artists a right to choose and express their own vision and find the plastic language for their productions. The principles of socialist realism and the overall state command over the creative process have been rejected in all domains of art and culture, and the freedom of creative thought and self-expression has been declared a priority in the national cinematography as well. Turning to its own history and searching for heroes in a different historical and social environment have characterized the film-making art of Uzbekistan at the new stage of its development.
Starting from 1996, the government has consistently allocated state budget funds for the development of the national cinematography. Thus, in keeping with the Presidential Decree of 16 March 2004 “On administrative improvements in the national cinematographic industry”, the Cabinet of Ministers issued a special resolution on the financing of the national cinema. Since that time, funds have been allocated annually to produce twelve full-length feature films, twenty documentary and popular science titles, ten animated cartoons, etc. Over the past ten years the network of cinema halls has also been restored: movie theatres are gradually coming back to perform their primary function, which is to show films, and that has given a powerful impetus to the development of “commercial” (mass) cinematography. Government resolutions have appropriately focused on the socio-cultural role of cinematography as a powerful instrument for building a new model of society and the formulation of the national idea.
In 2005, the “Uzbekkino” National Agency together with Uzbek Television and Radio Company were given a task to produce feature films, video films and television series telling about the life of our contemporaries and radical social and spiritual transformations in the society, by engaging sponsor contributions and their own resources
Today the country has a movie theatre repertoire with predominantly Uzbek films; there is a changing infrastructure and a growing number of films being produced, many of which have become real hits prompting the emergence of the Uzbek audience that was lost in the early 1990s. Thus, the appearance or return of the national audience can be regarded as a positive sign and a symptom of revival in the Uzbek cinematography. At the same time, commercial cinema generated a number of socio-cultural and aesthetic issues. A legitimate question arises with regard to social and moral mission of cinematography at the present stage: will it become an important component of the national artistic culture aimed at spiritual renewal of society, or turn into an undemanding element of entertainment industry. This concern is valid, since some of the films are wanting in their artistic value. In this regard, the so-called auteur or independent films have become secondary. Certainly, not all auteur films made during this period meet the high standards, yet, on the whole, the auteur film phenomenon still ranks higher in terms of moral and intellectual issues it brings up, compared to commercial cinematography.
Commercial films can be regarded as rather symptomatic, although ambivalent, phenomenon of the new development period in the national cinematography. The interaction between the auteur and commercial feature films should be based not on confrontation but on finding ways for creative collaboration among producers and film directors.
Currently, the new cinematography of Uzbekistan explores several areas. Some directors stay within realistic “narrative” model with a clearly dominant nostalgic realization of the national theme, while others give preference to the more abstract forms.
Films such as “The Only Memory” by S. Nazarmuhamedov, “The Speaker” and “Comrade Baykenjaev” by Y. Razykov present a totally unique artistic interpretation of momentous happenings. While in the early 1990s a historical theme in “The Stone Idol” (director I. Ergashev) and “Before Dawn” (director Y. Asimov) was closely linked with the idea of dethroning soviet myths, later, in the second half of the 1990s the original socially acute critical momentum began to fade. That time saw the production of historical and biographical films such as “Imam al-Bukhari” (director B. Sadykov, 1995) and “The Great Amir Temur” (directed by B. Sadykov and I. Ergashev, 1996). In the work of many filmmakers one can see some indirect, conventional forms of expression: the screen all the more eagerly embraces the eccentric and the unusual. The flavour of irony, comic attractions, eccentricity and grotesque inhabit films such as “Abdullajon”, “The Bomb” and “Heavenly Boys” by Z. Musakov, “Fellini” and “Oydinoy” by N. Abbasov, and “My Joy, The Aral Sea” by T. Kalimbetov.
Looking at the evolution of the feature films hero over the past twenty years, it would be appropriate to focus on only few essential aspects of the problem. If one compares the characters of the films made in the first ten years of independence, such as “Kammi”, “The Broker”, “In My Dreams Bitterly I cry” and “Judgment Day” on the one hand, and film heroes of the recent years, such as in “Zabarjad”, “The Real Men’s Hunt”, “Postscript”, “Belated Life” and Nazar” on the other, even a cursory glance would first notice the outward differences in the characters, and then the more profound, inner ones. After the “energetic” hero of early 1990s, the time required a new one – with the concept of inner integrity. And at the end of the decade a new hero emerged, the representative of authentic culture: be it Tashtemir in “Dilhiroj” or Daniyar in “Little Healer” who appears in the environment of traditional national culture and feels very comfortably there.
The important fact is that hero has been re-coded: the model hero – a regular figure of the past – has disappeared. There has been a shift in the direction of a genre, audience-oriented cinematography, and a tendency to move away from social issues to look at the problems of individuals; a growing number of films about family, marriage and relationships between generations is produced. Films such as “Yurt” (director A. Shahabiddinov) and “Lead” (director Z. Musakov) show a general tendency to rethink our history. The emotional palette of these films is concentrated in the characters.
Understanding the national context is a fundamental issue for contemporary cinematography. Naturally, the new cinema of Uzbekistan faces a number challenges and objectives: to explore the domain of artistic forms through which the national identity can be expressed. In this regard, emotional and psychological state of the character is presented in maximum isolation. “Yul Bulsin” by K. Kamalova, “Maidens’ Herdsman” by Y. Razykov, “Chashma” by Y. Tuychiyev and “Yurt” by A. Shahabiddinov reflect the authentic national mentality of the Uzbeks. Based on the centuries-old lifestyle and folk customs and traditions, the directors began to revive the special universe of traditional culture in their films.
“Tulip in the Snow”, “Following a Dream”, “Chashma” and “Robiya” by young film directors Yolkin Tuychiev, Ayub Shahabiddinov and Mansur Abdukhalikov marked the arrival of a new generation of cinematographers and a new way to construct the on-screen narration. They tell unpretentious stories about ordinary people rather than notorious celebrities or criminals. Yet the authors have successfully avoided didacticism and moralization, preferring to talk to the viewer in a “homey” atmosphere, without falsity or pathos, and often with a warm irony. In this situation, the subject, the viewer that is, is identified with the camera, carrying out the process of “gathering”. This is what happens in “Silence” (“Sukunat”, Y. Tuychiev, 2008), which is deliberately free from giving the impression of reality we used to see in a film that hinges on a clear plot line.
In the film industry there has also been a tendency towards improving and expanding the repertoire. Whereas in Jahangir Kasimov’s “The Eighteenth Square” (2006) and “Along the River” (2008), in Jasur Iskhakov’s “The Real Men’s Hunt” (2005), in Ravil Batyrov’s “Somewhere There’s Paradise” (2008), in Bahadir Adylov’s “Zabarjad” ( 2007) and “Debtor” (2010) one can see the attempts to create an image of a positive character and positive ideological settings, the new rendering of our recent historical past has been successfully represented in films such as “Vatan” (2005) and “Lead” (2011) by Zulfikar Musakov, and in “Yurt” (2007) by Ayub Shahabiddinov.
In recent years, in the feature film cinematography of Uzbekistan there has been a fairly steady interest in intellectual, art-house cinema, which is a kind of an export product that represents Uzbekistan in the international festival orbit. Some examples include: “Road under the Skies” by Kamara Kamalova; “And Captivated My Soul …” and “On the Other Side” by Sabir Nazarmuhamedov; “Fellini”, “Oydinoy” and “The Wheel of Eternity” by Nazim Abbasov; “Chashma” and “Postscript” by Yolkun Tuychiev; and “Yurt” by Ayub Shahabiddinov.
Important for the auteur film development have been experimental works of young film-makers in the short length format. These are the formats in which ideas, concepts and approaches maturate for the auteur feature cinematography. This is evidenced by the experience of the “NACHALO” ["THE BEGINNING"] short films contest held in 2011 in preparation for Tashkent International Contemporary Film Festival (TICFF). The film standards demonstrate rather substantial creative resource available for the young auteur cinematography of Uzbekistan. The very idea of the TICFF, initiated by the “Uzbekkino” National Agency and “Forum for Culture and Art” Foundation, has to do with the desire to develop national cinematography and to integrate it into the global cinematographic space.
The history of cinematography in Uzbekistan is a good example of the fact that the constant renewal is one of the fundamental qualities of the film-making art. Generation change is a prerequisite for the healthy development of national cinematography. Hence, the main objective of the film-making art support system should be to provide essential socio-cultural environment for the trained, professional and liberated generation of cinematographers to enter the industry. All this poses a number of serious problems to be addressed by the feature film cinematography of Uzbekistan.