Autumn 1997 (5.3)
I began working in film back
in 1959 when I was 16. Those were the days of youth and exuberance.
I think it's fair to say that my involvement in film for nearly
40 years has been driven by curiosity, passion and the desire
to excel. Clearly then, my remarks are motivated by romanticism
and love for cinema, although years of experience and analysis
also play a role.
Young cinematographers these days are having to get used to a
new reality since we've gained our independence. Our state has
chosen to enter the world's market economy which requires, first
of all, that people rid themselves of socialistic expectations,
especially parasitism, and their passive reliance on the State
to solve their problems. But, it seems, such concepts don't penetrate
our brains very quickly. It's going to take a total mental restructuring
before this happens.
Today, within the framework of independence, cinematographers
are having to cope with a whole range of household, economic
and moral problems. They must face these problems realistically.
The concept of market economy is not something that we can comprehend
all at once. We need time to get used to the idea.
Foreign journalists often ask whether the conditions related
to cinema have improved or worsened since independence. I always
compare our current situation to a patient undergoing surgery
to save his life. The patient suffers considerably during the
operative and postoperative stages, but then, due to timely intervention,
there's a great likelihood that he will recover.
Today, Azerbaijan is in the midst of trying to solve a tremendous
number of political and economical problems. It is impossible
for us to forget, even for a second, about the monstrous burden
lying on our shoulders as a result of the political game which
brought on this war in Nagorno-Karabakh and all its destruction,
including the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have been
displaced from their lands. Nor can we forget about the illegal,
humiliating annexation of 20 percent of our territory by Armenians.
Solving Political and
Our entire cultural scene, and especially cinema as one of its
main components, is experiencing tremendous difficulties. Nevertheless,
there is no reason to speak about the disappearance or demise
of cinema. Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan's President, recently met
with a group of cinematographers over lunch and observed that
despite the difficult economic period, filmmakers have not lost
their ability to survive. It's true.
But today in Azerbaijan, cinema is only able to function due
to the financial support of the government. How ironic! It's
really quite paradoxical! The market economy was supposed to
bring private investments to filmmaking and enable us to re-equip
our technical production base and modernize our cinema houses.
Yet, still, we are totally dependent upon the central government
According to our technical and creative potential, we should
be able to produce about 12 movies a year. But at present, we
struggle to make two or three; with luck, we sometimes manage
Are we competitive today in the context of the world market?
No doubt about it, we are surrounded by giants. American films
have planetary distribution, high technical standards and ideal
methods to attract a broad audience. And European cinema is closely
identified with its high level of spiritual and aesthetic qualities.
Add to that the universal phenomenon of television serials which
hypnotize housewives sitting for hours in front of the TV set
with a cup of tepid coffee. We could go on adding to the list
of giants with which we have to compete. But the truth remains,
there are no large or small cultures. Nobody can ever prove that
the sombrero is superior to the Jewish prayer cap, or that the
sound of bagpipes is more convincing than a piccolo.
World culture and cinematography are searching for universals
and for ways of drawing people together that can be understood
by different nationalities and ethnicities. World culture consists
of a phenomenal set of interacting, interrelational differences.
On the other hand, we must guard against standardization which
has the capability of killing culture. No culture can afford
It's been gratifying to us that recently when Azerbaijani films
have been entered into various international festivals and conferences,
considerable interest has been generated by the audience, researchers,
press and critics. Usually, our films receive some sort of international
award and recognition. For example, the recent film "Strange
Time" by Husein Mehdiyev won the gold prize in Madrid this
past year for the best production.
During a recent conversation with a French colleague, I was asked
how much money we had spent in making one of our films. When
I told him, he couldn't believe how limited our budget was. He
asked me to repeat the sum. Then he commented that such a small
figure would not have even paid for cosmetics and make-up in
a Hollywood film. But I don't agree with this strange idea that
the quality of a work of art is in direct correlation to its
We all know that we face immense problems in Azerbaijan when
it comes to cinematography. We must find solutions. We must develop
our own cinematographic educational system and build our own
technical animation production. We have to reconstruct our cinema
houses and make them modern so as to attract contemporary audiences
again. We must find ways to develop partnerships to finance and
co-produce our projects so that we can sell and distribute our
films and optimize profits.
That's our plan of action for tomorrow-the future. But, today,
even in the midst of the birth pangs of our new nation, we realize
that cinematography is critically important for social development
within our country. Recently, about 30 applications were submitted
in competition for the development of full-length films. I trust
this figure reflects the real potential of our capabilities and
our ability to utilize various styles and genres.
Eventually, from these applications, four films have been selected
for development this year (1997). They include (1) "Family"
(screenwriter Rustam Ibrahimbeyov, director Oleg Safaraliyev),
(2) "Number at the Hotel" (screenwriter Anar, producer
Rasim Ojagov), (3) "This Beautiful, Beautiful World"
(screenwriters Eldar Guliyev and Natig Rasulzade, producer Eldar
Guliyev) and (4) "Who is Dead, Who is Alive" (screenwriter
Ramiz Roshan, producers Ramiz Mirzayev and Ramiz Azizbeyli).
We struggle today but look forward with great anticipation to
Ogtay Mirgasimov, film director, lives in Baku.
(5.3) Autumn 1997.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.
Back to Index
AI 5.3 (Autumn 1997)
AI Home | Magazine