Thursday, November 14, 2019

Kazakh New Wave

“Of all the collective creative surges that have arisen in the cinema within the last thirty years, perhaps the quietest, least trumpeted, and most enigmatic was the Kazakh New Wave, beginning in the mid-1980s. The films of Serik Aprimov, Sergei Dvortsevoy, Ardak Amirkulov, Amir Karakulov, Ermek Shinarbaev, and Darezhan Omirbaev were unusual on every possible level—uniformly bestilled, lovingly crafted, modest to a fault, and extremely attentive to great and lonesome expanses of time and space.” — Kent Jones

I hadn’t encountered any mention of the Kazakh New Wave when I was hunting down films from various international countries more than a decade ago. However, over the last year few years, I read a few references to it especially whenever I came across a new film from Kazakhstan at a film festival. When I recently read Kent Jones’ article on the Kazakh film Revenge, the words “the quietest, least trumpeted..” stood out and haunted me.

The reason certain waves of cinema gain prominence doesn’t only have to do with where the films are first seen but also has to do with who is seeing those films and who is spreading word about them. If no major critics see initial works of a new Cinematic movement, then those initial works will likely be ignored by other festivals or distributors. To make matters worse, subsequent films from those directors will be overlooked. As a result, a potentially new Cinematic movement or wave may have formed and even achieved a high point but it would not register anywhere. One obvious example of such ignorance is related to Indian cinema. There have been quite a handful of movements that have taken place in Indian cinema such as the Parallel Cinema movement which reached a high point in the 1970s and early 1980s yet is still largely unknown among Western critics. Further new movements in Indian cinema related to independent movies (late 1990s such as those directed by Kaizad Gustad and Nagesh Kukunoor) and the new wave of urban movies in the mid to late 2000s (such as those of Dibakar Banerjee or Anurag Kashyap) again went unnoticed. A new wave of Indian cinema was developing but no one noticed. Thankfully, this same fate hasn’t fallen on Kazakh cinema as evident by a handful of articles related to the Kazakh New Wave. The works may not be well known but they aren’t forgotten. A big part of my coming across this wave was down to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema project No.2 and its inclusion of Ermek Shinarbaev’s 1989 feature Revenge.

Naturally, Revenge forms most of the reading material related to the Kazakh New Wave, starting with the Kent Jones article referenced above:

1. Acquarello on Revenge
2. Tanner Tafelski with an insightful interview with Shinarbaev
3. Five other vital directors from Kazakhstan
4. Shaken Aimanov: the man at the core of Kazakh Cinema
5. There is even a book about cinema in Kazakhstan which I have to hunt down: Film and Identity in Kazakhstan by Rico Isaacs

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