Autumn 1997 (5.3)
by Betty Blair
Frankly speaking, cinema is in trouble in Azerbaijan today. To create a literary masterpiece requires only paper and pen in the hands of a capable person of brilliant mind, tremendous willpower and discipline. Cinema, on the other hand, is an immensely complex art form demanding sophisticated equipment and production along with a highly trained team of dedicated technicians and artists. The bottom line is that movie making is exorbitantly expensive and requires either the sponsorship of the national government or the investment of private enterprise. During this transitional period that Azerbaijan is experiencing since independence (1991), filmmakers barely eke out a living from either source. Only four films are slated for 1997 although Azerbaijani filmmakers have the capability of producing at least 12 films annually.
When we began preparations for this issue, the gigantic building which houses the national cinema studio, AzerFilm, had just been shut down. The electric and heating bill had not been paid for five years. A thousand people used to work there. Today, it lies nearly vacant.
The question is "Can Azerbaijani film be revived?" The rich historical heritage of film would indicate that it can be, especially when coupled with the tremendous creative and artistic human resources that are available in Azerbaijan. That's why we have devoted this entire issue to the subject.
Direction and guidance for these pages has come from Guest Editor, Rustam Ibrahimbeyov, Azerbaijan's most prominent screenwriter, whose work, "Burnt by the Sun" won the Cannes Festival (1994) and the Oscar (Academy Award) for "Best Foreign Film" (1995).
Left: Mural in Baku's main Cinema commemorating Azerbaijan's filmmakers of the 20th century. Photo: Eileen Heraghty. Note: Mural no longer exists since the Cinema has been remodeled in 1998.
Though Mr. Ibrahimbeyov is currently involved with filmmaking in Los Angeles, Paris and Moscow as well as elsewhere, he continues to be one of the major driving forces for cinema, not only in Azerbaijan where he heads the Cinematographers' Union, but in the former Soviet Union, where he is the Acting Chair of what used to be the All-Cinematographers' Union in Moscow.
It was his vision that identified the broad scope of topics discussed here and which identified the experts - the film directors, critics and journalists - who have summarized the issues. Aydin Kazimzade, Deputy Editor of the Azerbaijan Cinema Encyclopedia, also assisted tremendously with the coordination of this issue.
Azerbaijan is looking for relationships outside their small country. They'll looking for exchange of ideas, for filmmakers to come explore their land and for investors for their projects. They're looking for creative ways to revitalize and reinvigorate the exciting world of cinema that they consider essential in rebuilding the minds and hearts of their new nation. We hope you'll catch the spirit of their vision in the pages that follow.
Betty Blair, Editor
Cinema: An Age-Old Tree
by Rustam Ibrahimbeyov
Azerbaijan's initial experiments in cinema date back to some of the oldest motion pictures produced in the world. Next year, 1998, will mark our centennial which follows three years on the heels of the world centennial which was celebrated in France in 1995.
Cinema is one of those plastic arts. Even the most detailed re-creation of a story is a feeble reflection of the complexities, the depth and nuance of everyday life. It is even more complicated to speak about the vast variety of films that have been created over the entire 20th century and that make up the body of work what might be referred to as the tree of Azerbaijani national cinema.
The collection of films that have been produced in our country over this century, cinematically speaking, comprise what could be visualized as an age-old tree. Each new film extends a genre or branch of what, in truth, is a vibrant living organism in the minds and hearts of our people. It's only natural that our tree is a unique species. It's shape, its size, its coloration, its texture and its ability to endure and withstand hardship differs from trees nourished and originating in other national soils and national souls. However, despite how unique and singular our tree might be, simultaneously, we are undeniably part of the great garden of world cinema.
Only recently, since Azerbaijan has gained its independence (1991) has the world community begun to turn its attention to the land that has nurtured this tree and to the dramatic fate of the people living here. Azerbaijan is still largely unknown to the world audience.
But cinema cannot be defined as art alone. Nor is it mere technique, industry or business. Cinema constitutes an integral image of the people and land on which it was created over the duration of their historical development.
These days, opportunities are beginning to emerge that enable Azerbaijan cinema to move beyond the borders of our own country and to begin to impact the world community. I, along with my colleagues in filmmaking, value this gesture by "Azerbaijan International" magazine in facilitating this interactive process as they dedicate this entire issue to our needs and dreams.
Above: Azerbaijan's National Film Studio, known as AzerFilm, virtually stands empty these days for lack of funding.
We are convinced that Azerbaijan has the potential of attracting business partnership interests from the outside world. Our filmmaking professionals across a broad spectrum of specialization are willing and capable of becoming involved in international projects. Our city, particularly the medieval inner city and the magnificent palaces of the oil barons beckon foreign filmmakers to explore our photogenic qualities. The broad spectrum of our landscape - from the rugged peaks of the Caucasus with its quaint villages to the energy-producing Caspian Sea provide a wide variety of cinematic settings within close proximity of each other.
Add to this, the immense interest for film within our country itself. Our numerous film theaters throughout the country are potential clients for the distribution of foreign features. Our spirit of internationalism and our curiosity and tolerance for other languages also foster international relationships.
Nowadays, Azerbaijan's film industry faces the same dilemmas of the other 14 republics of the Soviet Union. Our transition to a market economy has seriously crippled filmmaking efforts. Funds, once allocated from the central government for the creation, production and distribution of films, have been slashed. We're left in a dreadful state of affairs, especially from a technical point of view.
For starters, not a single theater in Baku is equipped with a modern stereo sound system. The list could go on endlessly. However, even the most superficial analysis of the state of Azerbaijani cinema today leads one to conclude that the incredible problems are possible to solve, and that the most critical factor is foreign investment.
In Russia, for example, new modern film theaters, equipped to world standard, are opening. Premiere screenings of films from around the world are being shown (first, and foremost, one should note, from the United States). Such theaters have already proven to be quite lucrative. There is no doubt that investment in the film production in Azerbaijan also has a promising future.