Mirlan Abdykalykov is a Kyrgyz film director. His first feature film, Heavenly Nomadic, premiered at Karlovy Vary, Cairo, Palm Springs, Mumbai, Istanbul and Beijing, and was Kyrgyzstan's official submission for the 88th Academy Awards.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Abdykalykov discusses the importance of ecology, narrative traditions in Kyrgyzstan and his next project.
FILMATIQUE: Heavenly Nomadic is a portrait of three generations of horse breeders in modern-day Kyrgyzstan, a sublimely beautiful but unforgiving landscape. What was your inspiration for this story?
MIRLAN ABDYKALYKOV: The main inspiration was my family, particularly my grandparents. We kept horses in my childhood, and I used to ride and herd with my grandfather. I like horses. And I always remember those times as the happiest in my life.
FLMTQ: A major theme in the film is the dichotomy between traditional ways of life, and the inevitable transition toward modernity. The threat of modernism appears in bulldozers who encroach, unwelcome, onto the lost paradise near Kyrgyzstan's Issy-Kuul lake. What particular challenges do families such as the one depicted in the film face?
MA: Nature is very important for humans and any living creature on the planet. And when modern technologies intrude, it raises many problems such as ecological problems, for example. On the other hand, nowadays humanity can't live without modern technologies. However, I'm worried for the places shown in my film, the corners of lost paradise, the places of virgin nature and beauty, and the places that keep old traditions. In Kyrgyzstan such places and families still exist— as shown in the film, they face the risk of extinction.
FLMTQ: The special relationship between adults and children also comes into focus. The young Umsunai, whose father was swept away by a river while trying to rescue his foals, often spends time with her grandparents who tell her mythical stories that run parallel to her own life. Umsunai also believes her deceased father now lives in the form of an eagle that flies overhead. What is the history of such folklore in Kyrgyz culture, and what role does it occupy in today's society?
MA: Kyrgyzstan has a very strong narrative tradition and folklore. Even before written language Kyrgyz people were spreading legends, poems and epics by word of mouth. They still do so today. The most well-known epic is "Manas" which consists of more than 200,000 poetic lines and is regarded as the longest in the world. We have a lot of legends, about almost everything. And we still have the tradition of grandparents telling legends to their grandchildren.
FLMTQ: The only other male in the family, Umsunai's older brother, is absent— he studies architecture in the city. How common is it for Kyrgyzstan's younger generations to move from the mountains to the city? Do you believe this trend poses a threat does to the country's disappearing ways of life, and if so, why?
MA: I think that education is very important and every young man or woman should be educated. Nowadays most young people leave, to the city or abroad, in order to get a good education or better conditions for life. But at the same time they shouldn't forget about their traditions, native language and culture.
FLMTQ: By the end of the film, women alone are left to carry on the tradition. Can you comment on gender roles in modern day Kyrgyzstan, and what motivated you to choose this ending? What do you see as the Kyrgyz woman's particular strength? What uniquely positions them for this task?
MA: From time immemorial Kyrgyz women have always had a special position in both family and society. Women were always homemakers and the keepers of tradition. And I think women are stronger, more patient and wiser than men.
FLMTQ: Can you please comment on any references, or technical influences, that you drew upon to capture Heavenly Nomadic's landscape in such a powerful visual manner?
MA: I wanted to portray Kyrgyzstan's beautiful nature and boundless landscapes. And I wanted to show that this can be enough to feel happiness.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
MA: I'm currently working on a new project, a fiction feature film named Fetters. It is a story about a teenager Jekshen, who studies in the village school. Jekshen's father is a tractor driver who earns money from time to time in the field, and occasionally drinks. Jekshen's mother has had a new family for a long time, so taking care of the father and the house work became an everyday routine in Jekshen's life, as well as ridicule from his classmates.
Frail, of short stature, and largely unnoticead Jekshen has a great talent— in running competitions he has no equal, he always wins. It seemed that this could be his ticket to a better life, but Jekshen's hope collapses due to health problems.