Her Right: a Public Talk with Saodat Ismailova, Marianne Kamp, and Chloé Drieu

Anna Pronina30/06/21 17:372.9K🔥

Following the film screening of Her Right (Saodat Ismailova, 2020), Saodat Ismailova, Dr. Marianne Kamp, Dr. Chloé Drieu, and Anna Pronina discuss the history of women’s issue in Central Asia, the Hujum campaign, and its consequences. This is the talk in the series of Tashkent-Tbilisi's events.

A screenshot from Her Right (Saodat Ismailova, 2020)
A screenshot from Her Right (Saodat Ismailova, 2020)

Anna Pronina: Could you please speak a little bit more about the history of your work? How did you come up with this idea? I’m especially interested in how you found and to choose the sources for your work.

Saodat Ismailova: It is a long-term research project because the working title of this work was Nurkhan. It was a figure that, I think, I first encountered in the book of Marianne Kamp The New Women in Uzbekistan, where there is a portrait of this girl. She was a young dancer from Margilan that was murdered by her brother for her passion and for her desire to dance and to represent herself in public. I think that the question of female representation in public is one of the interesting points for me, related to the country I came from. So in fact, this research started some time ago, probably five years ago, when I went to the archives and I started looking into who Nurkhan was. Of course, all of us who were born in Soviet times watched Soviet films and this was one of the major subjects in many Soviet films: the question of female emancipation, of Hujum, the Basmachi, the establishment of the Soviet Union in the region. It was very much present in our cultural background, but then all of this stopped with the start of the new period, with the new historical chapter. We also knew about Hujum because of our grandmothers, even if they were not unveiled, we had a certain type of knowledge about it. And I guess it is related to the time and to the generation. Curiously, today when you speak about Hujum to younger women, they don“t know about this part of the history and it”s not only because the memory is lost, but again thanks to how the tools of culture work. We have this knowledge that disappears with time.

So just going back to Her Right — It started with research on Nurkhan, with some readings, with going to the KinoPhonoPhoto Archive in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and collecting related materials. Then, thanks to Marianne’s book, I found out about this incredible women’s magazine called Yangiyul (The New Way) that is today called today Saodat. It is a very interesting publication, through which one can really understand what was the state expectation towards women, how a woman was seen, how she was expected to be seen, and what was the ideal woman. Then, last year I was asked by Video Jam in the UK to create a work with a composer. I said that I planned to create a work based on Nurkhan. But since the budget was limited and because of many other reasons, I had to create this work without filming. This situation pushed me to look to the archives and to the material that I was collecting for the research. I would also like to mention that I know some parts of silent cinema thanks to Chloé Drieu, who is present here, and to her book Fictions Nationales. She has done incredible research on silent film. The awareness of this cinema was totally absent for us. Even though I studied at the State Art University in the Cinema department, we were never told that this period of cinema ever existed. We only looked at the silent films of Charlie Chaplin or some Russian silent films but we never knew that there were actually Uzbek silent films. It is thanks to Chloé that I started looking at these films. I remember being in Tashkent, probably more than ten years ago, and getting some VHS tapes. So it is like a long-term interest: you have a book, you stumble upon a book you read, you get fascinated, it takes you to certain research, you meet the incredible talented scholar Chloé, who is also a very dear friend to me, that takes me to her own passion, and then you never know where it takes you. In fact, it took me maybe ten years to get this work that was coming from little pieces.

Then I decided to work with silent films. But when I started putting only the silent films together, I understood that this is only one part of the cinematic representation of this period. There is the question of how many Uzbek films were done that were focusing on the female question in general. Even though we don’t have so many female directors in Uzbekistan, the subjects of female integration into society and emancipation have been very much used in cinema. For this reason, I went to the films that I knew about and that fascinated me, for example, Without Fear by Ali Khamrayev, which is one of the most outstanding films in Uzbek history if you really want to understand what happened with women and how the Hujum worked. It was done in the Soviet period in a certain ideological frame, but still, I think it is an incredible portrait of this historical moment. Then there is a seventeen TV-series called Ognennye Dorogy (The Fire Roads) by Shukhrat Abbasov. The director of photography was my father. So it was another very close gaze into that subject. The film speaks about Hamza, it is a character who was praised during Soviet times. Nurkhan joined the theater group, while Hamza was the one who brought Western theater into Uzbekistan. So all of that created this big world around this one girl Nurkhan. A big world that, I believe, I have not yet totally expressed—there is still a lot to say about it.

AP: Another quite short question to you, Saodat, about the title of your work. You mentioned once that it came from another movie, right?

SI: Yes, there is this silent propaganda film called Her Right. There is an incredible scene where a man cuts the screen. His wife unveils and joins the factory to work, so he feels that he loses her. Then the traveling cinema arrives in the village and there is a propaganda film happening to engage people into a new system. The husband sees his wife talking from the screen. Basically, he tries to kill her but he goes and cuts the screen instead on the level of a woman’s neck. I thought that it totally speaks for that period and for the subject. So, please, do not confuse the title of the work that we have seen today and the original silent film that was made between 1929 and 1931.

AP: To grasp the meaning of Saodat’s work more fully, it would make sense to know a bit more about the historical context of the Hujum campaign. Marianne, сould you tell us about its agenda, how it was employed, and the impact of the campaign?

Marianne Kamp: In the 1920s, in newly formed Uzbekistan, there was a lot of attention paid to women and to women“s issues. This came out of Communist Party discourse but it also came out of the Jadid movement from Uzbekistan, which was hugely focused on the idea of women’s progress. By progress, Jadids meant the right to get an education, to interact in public, be part of this modernizing agenda. They believed that if women did not get in on that then the agenda itself would fail. So there was already a huge emphasis among intellectuals in cities in Central Asia on this idea that girls need to get a new style of education and “why are they wearing a veil anyway?”. This had been growing as a sphere of discourse and a sphere of action. Young women, in particular, started to rebel against wearing paranjas and wanted to get rid of them and felt uncomfortable getting rid of them. And then, in 1927 the Communist Party decided that this could really be a key tool for political leverage in Central Asia, for kicking off something that might be seen as what Sheila Fitzpatrick talked about as cultural revolution. It means a huge form of social change where a people”s ways of life will be disrupted and they will embrace the whole modern agenda of the Communist Party. So this was denoted and actually debated in late 1926 among Communist Party members in Uzbekistan with all of the leading Uzbek figures in the Communist Party: what should we do? What would be a good way to do this? What should we call this? They tried out a few different names and finally decided on Hujum. By Hujum they meant an attack on the old ways. This whole idea that old-style education, following Islamic norms, wearing a paranja, treating women as if they are people to be secluded and kept away from the public—all of that needs to go. So the Hujum was actually this kind of multi-pronged campaign that was about getting more girls signed up for school, getting women out into public activities. But the thing that captured everybody“s imagination was unveiling. There were these big unveiling meetings. The women who were associated with the Communist Party would go out to neighborhoods and invite others to join. This sort of invitation could be a form of pressure. They would invite women to come out to these big public meetings, listen to talks, then throw off their paranjas and maybe throw them in fire and burn them. That didn”t always happen and the meetings were not always huge. Then there was a backlash against this because families were very upset that women of the family had decided to go out in public, burn paranjas, and come home with their faces exposed. In some cases, this resulted in violence: families tried to rein in the actions of especially younger women, sometimes with brutal physical harm and occasionally there were murders. The Nourhan story became the most well-known story of such a murder at the time it happened. And then, of course, it got turned into poetry, into music, into film, and into all sorts of other things. So that’s a little bit about what the Hujum was in that period. There is one thing that really struck me about it for different reasons. I was scanning through the Uzbek language newspaper of late 1929, and although it was looking for other things on collectivization, every issue had at least one article about the Hujum: Hujum reports from little villages, Hujum discussions. So this was a campaign that was really front and center for the party in Uzbekistan from 1927 until 1930.

AP: As you said, the Hujum campaign was a part of a bigger modernization process. At the same time, cinema as a form of media was a very modern device for Uzbekistan back then. Which role did the cinema play in this process?

MK: I think that Chloé is going to be better at answering that than I am. However, what I can tell you is that the party would organize meetings, they would be small or could be large, they could happen among men, they could happen among men and women together, (there was a big push to get men and women together in public and there was a lot of pushback against that). And there came to be a need for something more than just speeches, because, frankly, you heard one speech—you heard them all. Artists were writing poetry to encourage unveiling. Playwrights were creating plays to describe what was wrong with family life and what was wrong with wearing a veil, and to encourage unveiling. Filmmakers were making these films. So you get various scattered reports about the meeting where they showed this film or another meeting where people watched this play or they heard this poem. We don“t get very many of those concrete details. The reports on Hujum are often quite concise: there was a meeting and there was a speaker—that”s really all you could learn. But we have various archival documents that tell us exactly the things that Saodat was talking about earlier. In that 1931 film Her Right, agitators went to villages with these traveling cinemas and some of them were powered by basically riding a bicycle, so that it was easy to set up in villages. And people came out for that because it was a new thing. So there was a combination of art, desire, and newness stimulating that embrace of modernization. Now I’m going to be quiet on that, because I think that Chloe knows a lot more about how this worked.

Chloé Drieu: Maybe I should start by pointing out the fact that cinema is a small part of a broader context of transformation. Of course, at the very beginning, cinema was almost nothing because it was raised from the ground from zero. So at the beginning, it was a bit difficult to use cinema for propaganda purposes and political purposes. The first two studio films that were created in Bukhara, in the Bukharan Soviet Republic at that time, worked for a very short period but it is very important to keep in mind that the local elite, not only Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, had a view on how to use cinema for political purposes and for propaganda. So the local reformist elite, whom we call Jadids, had views on theater and cinema and how it could help society to see their own defects on the screen and to change it and to improve. It“s important to keep in mind that the first two films made in Bukhara were created not by the central power or Bolsheviks propagandists, but from a local point of view. It means that on the local level, there was a wish to use films for propaganda purposes. But of course, it was very difficult to start from nothing because for cinema you need very skilled people, technology, different materials, and so on. And a few studios at the very beginning, in Bukhara and then in Tashkent, were organized in old madrasah. The working conditions were very bad, because in the mid 1920s there was almost no electricity. So the studio had to work during the night, because during the day, there were trams that were using electricity. The filmmakers and the staff needed to work from midnight until six o”clock in the morning. Of course, there were also very difficult temperature conditions because to develop films you need about 20 degrees for the development process. But the summer and winter temperatures in Uzbekistan vary a lot. So using films for propaganda was very difficult at the beginning up until the Cultural Revolution in 1927-1928. Moreover, filmmakers came from Saint-Petersburg, invited by the local Uzbek studios to come to Uzbekistan to make films. But they had their own representation of local populations and used to produce much more entertainment and exotic films, which did not work for propaganda and for the transformation of society. So we need to wait for the years 1927-1928 to see a proper propaganda film. I would like to underline that it was important to have local actors. In Saodat’s work, for instance, we can see the actress Messerer, who was a Russian, in the film Vtoraya Zhena (The Second Wife). For the audience, there was a problem of authenticity: even though she tried to perform Uzbek dances, obviously it was not the right way to dance. But to make a good propaganda film, you need the audience itself to identify with the actors, to act as the actor does in the future, to transform as the main characters do. It was a very long process but it was reached in the end of the 1920s and especially the early 1930 with such famous films like Doch Svyatogo (Daughter of the Saint). The propaganda was quite set up in the early 1930s.

AP: What is the place of these movies in the history of Uzbek cinema? And how were they perceived during the Soviet period and, (what is maybe more interesting) in the Post-Soviet Uzbekistan?

CD: As Saodat said, it is very rare to see these movies. Most of the films, which were produced during the 1920s and 1930s were banned at the end of the 1930s. I mean it was censorship but in the way that just did not use them anymore. So I think that they just dropped out of the memory, then disappeared. I think it’s very important that, for instance, Ali Khamroyev used a lot of archival materials and Saodat used the older silent films to present them again to contemporary audiences so one could imagine how hard it was for a woman to be dressed like that and how much strength you need to get unveiled. Because after the unveiling, as Mariannne told, sometimes a lot of violence occurred, including murders, so women had to put the veil on again. I think this inner tension was very well depicted in Saodat’s film, how difficult and strong you must be to make the step and to move forward.

AP: The gender dimension is indeed the central question in Saodat’s work. So I would like to ask another question of what is the image of a woman that we see in the work and in these featured movies and whose vision it represents.

SI: First, just a few words about the films that are used in the work Her Right and the values they represent. There are these two films by Latif Fayziyev that I have discovered while putting this work together. We mostly know about his works related to co-production with India, for instance, his movie Alibaba i Sorok Razboynikov (Alibaba and the Forty Thieves); there are some other films of his. But I had never seen these two works which are called Svyaschennaya Krov (Sacred Blood) and Podarok Lenina (Lenin’s Gift). They both deal with the stories of girls that get unveiled and want to go to study, how they deal with their families. I’ve suddenly seen the way the films are shot, how the camera moves, how editing is put together, the structure of the films. It was an amazing discovery for myself as a filmmaker. Another issue of not having access to these films is that we cannot develop the language of Uzbek cinema if we cannot base ourselves in what has been done already, in visual and cinematographic languages, cause we don“t have access to that to go further on. We direct our gaze into the cinema coming from the other parts of the world instead. Also, Latif Fayziyev was a discovery because in his movies the subject of hujum gets out of the frame of pure propaganda. Here you have Uzbek actresses, which again makes you relate differently. In the way they look, walk, and sit, everything speaks. Then Ali Khamrayev’s Chrezvychayny Komissar (Emergency Commissar), his not very well-known film, also has some incredible shots that I used in Her Right. It starts with a very strong scene of a crowd of veiled women. With Shukhrat Abbasov, it gets into another term. It”s the cinematic language that changes and so do the historical and political situation as well as the relation of these people to women in general. I think that in the films of Latif Fayziyev, Uzbek female actresses start appearing. For example, it“s useless to speak about Dilorom Kambaeva or Tamara Shakirova, who appeared in Bez Strakha, it was their first roles. They”re probably the two biggest female icons of Uzbek cinema that exist. If you compare the representation of women in cinema to how you see them in cinema today, of course, it“s totally different now. Unfortunately, it”s going backwards today. That“s the sensation I have of major films that are on the screen in Tashkent now. Women are put into the frame of the family, of giving birth and being a mother again. The image of a woman who is educated and has her place, a voice and a role in a society, is absent. So this is why I believe this subject is important to look at it again and at least to remember it. I had a certain privilege, for example, in my education and in the way I was shaped, but it”s thanks to this part of Uzbekistan history including the liberation of women and the modernization of a society.

AP: Chloé, could add something on this topic from the perspective of how these movies were made and who stood behind the production process?

CD: The movies were collective works, that“s why it”s very interesting to work on them as a scholar. Most of the scriptwriters were Uzbek. They proposed a script for film studios, then the film was shot. As far as the image of women is concerned, when many Uzbek actresses appeared in the early 1930s, it changed a lot in terms of reception. But reception is an issue that is very difficult to deal with, since it’s hard to find the information from the people who were looking at females and to understand how they reacted to the image of women. But I can draw two or three examples because I work extensively with the Uzbek press. There one can find some very interesting critique. There is a film that Saodat used in her work called Chadra by Mikhail Averbakh (1928). It is the story of a couple of Young Communists, a man and a woman, who just came back to Uzbekistan to implement modernization. In the film, you have this image of a train as a symbol of Soviet modernization and cultural revolution, which means that an inexorable change will occur soon. I find it interesting to see some critique there: what a woman from Uzbekistan wants to know is basically how to leave Uzbekistan and to go to Moscow. It is a different viewpoint towards Soviet modernization, as filmmakers saw modernity that came from Moscow to Uzbekistan. So for Uzbek women it was important to know how to go to Moscow to get more modernized. So this is one example I can draw.

SI: There is also a female character from Prokazhennaya (The Leper) that I found very interesting because she is married to a local, but then falls in love with a Russian man. For me as a local, it’s a really strange plot. I mean it could happen, of course, but in that time it looked very inventive, or inauthentic even.

CD: Yes. Until 1931, all the filmmakers were coming from Russia so they were conveying their own representation of women of Uzbekistan. In a sense, it was a very exotic, very colonial type of representation. There is another film Shakaly Ravata from 1927 by a Russian filmmaker Kazimir Gertel. He worked a lot with the Uzbek scriptwriters, actors, and consultants so that the film was considered an Uzbek film because it was authentic. It was dealing with the tradition, showing the local life, so it was consideredUzbek by critics. So I think it“s important as we think about what national cinema is. It turns out that you don”t necessarily need an Uzbek filmmaker, Uzbek scriptwriter, and an Uzbek actress to make a national film.

MK: I am going to turn back to the question that Anna raised at the beginning, which was about gender. We could look at all of these films and say, on the one hand, we get a bunch of orientalist gazes early on, and then we get an Uzbek gaze, but it“s an Uzbekmale gaze. And in Saodat’s film, we get an Uzbek woman’s gaze. So one of the things that I find in your film, Saodat, is your strong attention to the emotionality of women, as they are facing fear or joy or wonder or opportunity or threat. You focus on the face, you focus on the eyes, you focus on their ways of conveying what they”re feeling. And all of that is there. You took those images from the original films that you“re drawing from the archives. How would these films have been different in the 1930s or in the 1960s if the filmmaker had been a woman instead of a man, and an Uzbek woman instead of an Uzbek man? Is there a difference between male and female gaze really? Or are our cinema products actually more complex so that it would be reductive to say what we”re getting here is a male gaze?

SI: This is a very nice and complicated question. There is a dilemma inside of me. When I was doing this work there were a lot of questions related to hujum itself. That was what I got from your book also while reading the interviews with women. Our common gaze was like there was emancipation so I can get an education, speak the languages, and be free. But then when you go to the source and understand how challenging and dramatic it was for these women to expose their faces, I feel them as a part of the culture. But what I think is important is not to forget and to look back at it, whatever happened and whatever was the cost. And now going to the gender question. I am a filmmaker and I do not only work with the archives, I also made my first feature film and some other formats, films and works. And I“m working on my next feature film where the characters are women. Often, I have addressed the question of why I work with this feminine world. I do it (if I were to compare it to the films that are used in Her Right in a more private space. So it”s not about their social representation, social questions, or public life, rather I am looking at their inner spaces. I don“t know whether I do that because I”m an independent filmmaker and I don’t work with state funds from my country, where, probably, I would have been asked a question of who is the contemporary character of today. I don“t know who is a contemporary female character of today in Uzbekistan, honestly. From which point of view? Of an independent filmmaker, or as a woman, or as an Uzbek woman? I would say one thing, that if it was for the state cinema that character would be different. So it”s a complicated question. But definitely, it is a gaze from outside Marianne. It’s a gaze from the point of view of a political need of that period. Another part that I really find fascinating in these films that is not only related to gender is the force of cinema. For example, in Doch Svyatogo, there are some incredible moments related to certain rituals that have disappeared. But you can go back to this film, even if these films are not ethnographic films or documentaries, because they carry that. So cinema has this incredible power to take the moment and conserve it. Even if it is a propaganda film, it leaks through other information. This is like a time machine: you go there and then you find yourself in another period and situation. And if you go deeper, it can become a starting point for thinking differently or using your creativity to reimagine that moment. So your question is as important as the gaze from the state, from the center to our culture, as well as the question of how women were portrayed by those who were not women.

AP: Now I would like to raise another big issue, it is a question of memory. How present is this topic today on the level of private history, family history, and public history?

MK: I did my interviews a long time ago, back in 1992-1993. So I was able to talk with women who were old enough that they themselves had unveiled during the hujum. So for them, it was not a story that had been passed on to them, it was a direct experience of their own lives. And that“s what oral historians do. And then, when things get passed on to younger generations, what we are collecting are traditions that may be talked about or may not be. So I know many of my friends in Uzbekistan, who say, “Well, I know my grandmother”s story was this, or we heard about this.” And others say, “Back in that time, women were forced to unveil,” and that“s the story that they get in their family. So there are these competing stories. Also, there is the fact that public discourses and the ways that we memorialize history through museums, movies, textbooks, and fiction shapes the way that people think about the past. So that which people may be sharing today may have no relation to what their great grandparents experienced, but may simply be a collective narrative about what happened. During the Soviet period, there was lots of attention to this, you could count on it every year. There were always some memorial events about the Hujum on International Women”s Day in Uzbekistan. That went away with the end of the Soviet Union. So Soviet discourse about Hujum really evaporates as a public way of telling people how to remember in the 1990s. Versions of the past become multiple and not very detailed in a lot of ways. For quite a while, the Soviet period was not the one that anybody wanted to talk about. If you“re talking history, you want to talk about something that has more grand victimizing possibilities, like the Russian invasion, for instance. I”m not sure what has happened to memory of that time period now, because memory actually is a cultural discourse that is really focused on very many other things. I“m always fascinated when I meet people, and they say, “We have this story in our family”. So clearly, things do get passed on. People talk about how grandmother unveiled, how grandmother went to school or something like that. But it”s within families, it seems more than a big socially shared story.

SI: As a local, I don“t remember my grandmother speaking about it, honestly. It doesn”t mean that it didn“t happen. But I think that the question of collectivization and repression was bigger in the family. So that was the story that was transmitted in detail. I think that it was a bigger trauma, the dislocation of the whole family from a city to a city. However, of course, we knew what a paranja is. But there was not a big focus on that. My grandmother was born in 1924. She was not veiled. So she did not live it. I don”t know if her mother was veiled or her grandmother was. But what is interesting is that this object itself, a paranja, is really strong. It“s not like a burqa from Afghanistan or what we see in the Middle East. It”s way more imposing and way more monumental, I would say. Using horse hair to weave a net in front of the face, it“s incredibly powerful. So I started collecting them at some moment of my life, but just these frontal parts, not being interested in the part that collectors would focus on, that is the part with embroidery. What I was interested in were the nets. Usually, they had holes and, probably, sweat or dirt on them. For me, this frontal part was always a screen, it is through this that women were seeing the world. I”m just mentioning that because once I showed it to one young Uzbek girl and said, guess what it is. And she couldn“t figure it out. She just had no clue, no idea of what it was. So they are not connected anymore to that object. They think about veiling today in terms of what comes from other parts of the world like hijab, which we don”t have in our culture. So the memory of the chachvan, this frontal part, is gone.

AP: Thank you, it is really an impressive story that you mentioned here in the end. We have some questions from the chat. Could you please tell more about the sound design in Her Right?

SI: As I said, it was commissioned by Video Jam in Manchester and we presented the work in March 2020. It was a collaboration with a composer from the UK. This was the condition of the commission. Seaming To is a composer based in the UK who played live on this film. The soundtrack that I kept I have put together from her previous works. So we were in connection with her so I would share with her the emotions I“m looking for. Then she would send me some ideas, so then I would create the soundtrack. So the sound space of my works are extremely important for me since I don”t think only visually. I somehow let the sound drive me as the first motivator. It was hard for me to use the sound that was done live so I kept the sound that we created together with Seaming To.

AP: There is another question about the montage. It would be great to hear more about how the fabulous montage of close ups came to be? Did you know that you wanted that scene before editing the film?

SI: I often do some kind of experiments. I looked at the films and then tried. It“s like making sketches when you draw. You test, you draw one sketch, then another, then third. So that”s how I work. I think this is why we need to work with editors because editors have a constructive mind, they can construct the idea from the beginning and then use your footage to build the idea, while a film director very often goes after certain emotions or sensations. That“s normally what I always do first in my work. I use it so then it”s not calling anymore, not troubling my mind to structure the idea. Because if you go only after the emotion then you can get lost. And basically you don“t communicate any direct ideas. So those images of overlaying, they come from when I wanted to satisfy my emotions. By taking close ups of these women, looking at their faces and at how they were portrayed, putting them all together I thought I would create one portrait from different female portraits, but it”s going to be one woman that lived in that period of history.

Furqat Palvan-Zade: I had one question for Marianne. During your research, did you hear any story of when a woman herself chose to unveil or was it always a forced unveiling?

MK: No, I certainly heard stories of women who themselves chose to unveil. One of them was a woman whose life I“ve written about in a little bit more detail. Her name was Saodat Shamsieva and she was an editor. She talks about moving to Tashkent with her husband, who was associated with journalism. They moved there in 1924. And she basically said that she wasn”t living at home and didn“t want to wear her paranja anymore so she didn”t have to. Essentially, her attitude was that she didn“t want to wear it and there was no one around to make her wear it. The atmosphere that she was living in Tashkent was supportive enough that she could do this. I heard variations on this from other people who got the idea at school, people were talking about unveiling. So for many of the women I talked to, they unveiled during the Hujum. But some of them actually unveiled before the Hujum when there was no possibility that it was the heavy hand of the communist state forcing them to do it. That just wasn”t what happened. When I listened to their stories from the period of the Hujum, it was very hard to sort any of that out. What is one“s own desire? And what is a set of circumstances that is pushing one? So I heard lots of stories also from women who said that they took it off because they were told they had to. So they did. And they didn”t talk about this in any way as their own choice. But of course, all of these are reconstructions in memory. And so we, to some extent, say that they know what their emotions were at the time and what their motivations were. But yes, I have certainly heard from women who said they did this because they wanted to, that they actually fought against their family and had to convince them.

FPZ: Saodat, I also have a question for you. Would you describe another of your projects, the project Her Five Lives, which depicts the evolution of how Uzbek women were presented in cinema?

SI: It’s funny because the title “Her Five Lives” comes from Marianne’s paper Three Lives of Saodat. When I read it, it really struck me, maybe I should go back and read it again. But what was left in my mind is how one person tells three types of stories she lived and totally believes that each one is true. I think that it“s very interesting way how a film can be done in general, how one situation is seen or reconstructed in three contradictory ways. So this was a kind of a pandemic story because we couldn”t do anything in 2020. Though it was a wonderful year for the archives, for the passion and information that you accumulate. So Her Five Lives was an essay that was commissioned by the Asian Film Archives, a series of monographs. And I said that I“m gonna do this as I just did Her Right, watched all the films, all this was totally fresh in my mind. And I remembered the work of Marianne Three Lives of Saodat very well. There is also another wonderful article by Gulnara Abikeeva, a film critic from Kazakhstan, who wrote about how women were represented in the cinema of Central Asia. That inspired me as well. So I decided to look at how women were seen in Uzbek cinema by analyzing five periods. I think the first is called Victim of Patriarchy, then the next one is related to collectivization. The third is about Khrushchev’s Thaw when the cinema started being freer. And the next one is the perestroika period when women suddenly became absolutely different, they became more of their own nature. I think that it”s a fantastic period in Uzbek cinema for portraying women and also unresearched; maybe the time will arrive. Then, it’s a period of independence. I think that there are more and more female characters in cinema today but there is also this feeling of being uncertain, confused, and undefined somehow. Lots of questions raise a certain type of emptiness for me. It is interesting to see how the portrait of a woman changes. First, a woman is portrayed as a victim of a patriarchal society in early propaganda films. Then suddenly a woman becomes a part of a society. She is free but seen as sort of a part of social realistic paintings: she is collecting cotton more than anybody in the world, working on a tractor better than any man. She“s the one who will build the future of the Soviet Union in the East. Then in the films of Ali Khamrayev, we see in cinema for the first time that a woman can fall in love, express her love, have feelings in her eyes and be in her emotions, you know. Then the Perestroika arrives. It”s a period when, as Gulnara Abikeeva said, there was no more Mohammed and there was no more Lenin. I had the feeling that I was missing one period, I had the feeling I was missing a woman related to the Second World War. I don’t know if Chloé agrees with that?

CD: I wanted to ask you this question of why you skipped this period, actually.

SI: I think I did these five, then at a certain moment, I thought that there was one period missing, because of a big jump from collectivization to Khrushchev’s era. I had the feeling that there is that generation of films such as Tashkent Gorod Khlebny (Tashkent, City of Bread) and others related to the Second World War. A woman is the one to cure wounds.

CD: Maybe you should read or you already read Svetlana Alexievich’s U Voiny ne Zhenskoe Litso. She got a lot of interviews from women who experienced the Second World War. As far as I remember about cinema during the Second World War, it was more like film concerts with women dancing and singing. So women were going to the public sphere.

SI: To support men in the war, basically.

FPZ:I think this image is the only image from the Soviet Union, which is still used In modern Uzbekistan, it could be the image of a mother waiting for her son. And what is happening now to all those magazines? I think Saodat magazine still exists, right? Can you describe the image of the woman in this magazine?

SI: I think that it“s more or less as with the cinema. In a sense, it”s more immediate, you don“t need to watch hours and hours of films to understand how a woman was portrayed here. It”s way more simple. I have managed to scan the covers of the magazine from 1950 until 2019. Just recently, I have been trying to do new work with these covers. But the representation is just the same: she“s a worker, she”s a pilot, she“s a scientist, she”s anybody who serves the society. At some point, you start feeling how the Soviet Union was getting weaker and weaker. So there are even some covers related to women-psychics, as well. You probably remember when the Soviet Union was collapsing, there were a lot of people making hypnotic sessions or visions of the future. I have put all those cover images onto one page and I could basically understand who a woman was expected to be. Through graphic design you also see that the ideology machine was very strong. You see that everything was serving ideology like font, color or composition.

FPZ: I think we have one more last question. Saodat, you mentioned that you started to notice a local cinematic tradition in the films of Latif Fayziyev. How would you characterize this tradition? What was specific to it in your view?

SI: Well, maybe Nabi Ganiev is more important for the local cinema as a local filmmaker. I think that the figure of Latif Fayziyev struck me a lot because I didn“t hear so much about him before. These films, Podarok Lenina and Svyataya Krov, are totally forgotten. He worked with a DOP, his surname was “Pann” since he was Polish originally. Or they would nickname him “Pann”. In this film, I saw a very interesting movement of a camera. The cinematography can be filmed in a way that you see that they were thinking about editing already. Not like that they were going to film and then take it to the editing table, the other way, the camera is doing this work already. So this was what impressed me in these two films of Latif Fayziyev, the work of the camera and editing. It is interesting because we have totally missed them. I don”t know where this influence came from, though. Maybe it’s a synergy that was created by the collaboration of the DOP, the editor, and Latif Fayziyev. But I think that these two films really deserve a more attentive look.


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