Summer 2003 (11.2)
John Rushkin, famous
Victorian thinker of the 19th century, once stated: "Great
nations write their autobiographies using three manuscripts-the
book of deeds, the book of words, and the book of art".
Two centuries later, such an important task can be simplified
by employing cinematography to immortalize a nation's portrait
of itself. For Azerbaijan, this should not represent a major
problem, at least hypothetically, since we already have a cinematic
tradition of 105 years.
The reality, however, is that Azerbaijani cinema is currently
in a systemic crisis which began well over a decade ago. In the
era of globalization, it is difficult for such a small nation
to match the previous Soviet-era record of a dozen feature films
each year. During those years (especially from the 1940s to late
1980s), such award-winning titles were released as "Arshin
Mal Alan" (The Cloth Peddler, 1916, 1917, 1945, 1965), "Koroghlu"
(Son of a Blind Man), "Nizami", "O Olmasin, Bu
Olsun" ("If Not This One, That One"/"Mashadi
Ibad", 1956), "Nasimi" (1974) and "Babak"
(1979). Most of these films dealt with the country's history,
reflecting not only the Azerbaijani people's great interest in
it, but the ability of the Soviet cinematography school to create
impressive historical documentaries.
Thus, it is especially saddening that no full feature or even
short films have been produced during these recent decades that
deal with our country's history, especially the Karabakh war.
In addition, since our independence (late 1991), we have, for
the first time, many possibilities to develop documentaries defining
our own national historical development.
Consider such nation-building themes as Prince Javanshir of Caucasian
Albania, the founding of the independent Karabakh khanate and
its subsequent incorporation into the Russian empire, or the
Azerbaijani khanates and their rulers or the ethnic Azerbaijani
Safavi, Afshar and Gajar dynasties of Iran, or Nakhchivan khans
which gave Azerbaijan six generals.
In fact, despite Soviet-era feature films about the WWII hero
General Hazi Aslanov and the post-independence documentary about
Artillery General Ali Agha Shikhlinski, there are many more that
need to be made from the Nakhchivan-Kangarli generals to the
Artillery General and ADR Minister of Defense Samad Mehmandarov,
the 19th century Vice-Admiral Ibrahim Aslanbeyov, and numerous
At this stage in our country's development, given the state resources
and talent pool, it is definitely possible to produce a few full-length
feature films, several more short films, a few cartoons, documentaries
and TV serials each year. Fortunately, there are now several
independent media companies, which generate enough revenue to
partially sponsor filmmaking-exemplified by the fact that they
purchase rights to foreign films and soap operas.
It is a standard practice throughout Europe for several media
corporations from different countries to come together to produce
a film, almost always with substantial financial state support.
Similarly, capitalizing on the world's interest in regard to
this part of the world (remember James Bond's "The World
is Not Enough" (1999), "The Peacemaker" (1997)
and other Hollywood films which have incorporated Azerbaijan
in their plots), every effort should be made to pass favorable
laws and create an attractive climate for the development of
the film industry so that foreign filmmakers come to Azerbaijan
and incorporate their stories in the plot or use it as a backdrop
A separate issue is that our cinematographic jewels in Azerbaijani
which are part of the Soviet and the world's cinematography,
are either rotting or, at best, collecting dust on the shelves
in our archives. The masterpiece "Arshin Mal Alan"
is the most unfortunate example. It is practically lost for us.
Much of the master footage of these older films has already been
partially lost. We will definitely lose the rest in the near
future unless we take urgent action to save these films.
As is customary in the West, these older titles must be restored,
re-mastered and re-issued on VHS and DVDs and, whenever possible,
additional footage that had been cut due to censorship, as well
as interviews with the directors, screenwriters and actors, should
be introduced. This process has long been embraced by the film
industry worldwide. Not only is it cheaper and easier to save
our old masterpieces than to shoot new movies, but such a process
also fulfils the moral obligation of the nation to its own heritage-which
is the backbone of any nation.
Keep in mind that the American MGM studio has always been valued
for its massive collection of classic movies. Entire cable channels
such as Turner Classic Movies (TCM) exist in the U.S. and a similar
situation exists in Russia as well with "Nashe Kino"
This "total remastering process" should, of course,
be done in parallel with the making of new movies shot inside
the country as well as abroad, a process which actually is already
beginning. With intelligent marketing, the success of re-issued,
re-mastered films can be guaranteed. I'm sure that everyone from
Azerbaijan, now living in various corners of the world, would
be happy to purchase some of these wonderful cinematographic
narratives for their own and their family's enjoyment.
John Ruskin would have been pleased to witness such an extension
of his original concept. So would the Azerbaijani nation.
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