Nariman Turebayev is a Kazakh screenwriter, editor and film director. His first film, Little Men (2003), premiered at Locarno, Chicago, Tallinn Black Nights and Thessaloniki. Sunny Days (2011), his second feature, also premiered at Locarno where it won Best Film. His latest work Adventure, an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's White Nights, premiered at Karlovy Vary, Turin, and the Eurasia International Film Festival Almaty, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Nariman Turebayev discusses the absence of love, a lack of regret for the Soviet era, Kazakhstan's modern mix of culture, and his next projects.
FILMATIQUE: Adventure adapts White Nights, a work from Dostoyevsky that has been reworked by many notable filmmakers over the years - Robert Bresson, Luchino Visconti, James Gray. What in particular drew you to this source material? To what extent, at all, did you reference the other versions?
NARIMAN TUREBAYEV: To be frank, I don't like Dostoyevsky's works apart from White Nights and some short stories. His meditative and nervous writing manner makes me crazy. White Nights is his only work I liked from my childhood— it was easy romantic reading to me. And I always wanted to make a film based on it.
Eventually I did it. Unfortunately (and ironically) I did so after age 40, in the middle of a divorce. Everything changes for men after 40, you know. And I understood White Nights is not romantic: it's cruel and rough, it's even sarcastic. It's my view— the view of 40-something man— on romance. And the protagonist is like my other films' protagonists— there's nothing before and after him. He has no past, he has no future— it's just him alone in a disappearing present moment, without hope. So this is the story about the absence of love. And, maybe, about happiness being alone. This is a film made by a frustrated man.
FLMTQ: Kazakhstan's complex past with Russia makes it all the more interesting to relocate the story to Almaty. What aspects, narrative or aesthetic, expressed themselves as quintessentially Kazakh to you?
NT: The film is in Russian. And this is all the Russian influence in the film. Yes, I'm a Russian-speaking Kazakh man educated in Russian culture. But during the years of Kazakhstan's independence I lost my connection to and interest in Russia. I don't understand most Russian films made in the past 20 years.
FLMTQ: Can you reflect more broadly on the Russian influence in Kazakhstan today? What has been your experience with the fall of the USSR? How do you believe it persists in people's memories?
NT: My films are very personal and intimate, I hope. That's why I'm always surprised when they give me money to make films. My films are a reflection of myself, and yes, I live in a very complex and rich mix of Kazakh-Russian culture.
The thing is, relations between the Kazakh and Russian populations are self-regulated. Everyday I go by bus, through markets, in the street and I see this happening— intuitively, people have found balance in their relationships. Life is hard enough and there's no time for conflicts.
I don't regret the Soviet era. It's gone and that's all. And we become more and more mixed up in Kazakhstan. For example, my nephews are Jewish-Kazakh-Russian. But I'm not an idealist— everything can change in a moment.
FLMTQ: What aesthetic approaches did you embrace to translate these themes— of urban boredom, loneliness, alienation, even a critique of capitalism— to the screen?
NT: Everyone is afraid of the city. They hide inside their interiors like men in cages. I tried to depict a beautiful and terrifying city. Though all the cities are the same.
FLMTQ: Can you reflect on the state of the Kazakh film industry? Is it easy to get projects funded? If not, what are common difficulties?
NT: I cannot speak for the entire Kazakh film industry. I can speak only for myself— it's very difficult to get funding for my films. As I said earlier, every time it's a surprise when they give me funding to make a film.
FLMTQ: Any new projects in the works?
NT: Last year I finished a micro-budget feature film called City Filth, on revenge and justice. Right now I'm making a feature film titled Three Elements with my students— I began teaching filmmaking at an university. We are in post-production.
My future project is Zhezkazgan Mon Amour, with planned shooting in Winter 2017-2018. And many other projects which I try to move (I Love Sinead O’Connor, The Amazing Story of Michael Conrad, The Provincial Diary, etc.)— ideas come to me easily, I just write them down.