Temirbek Birnazarov is one of the most important Kyrgyz directors working today. His films, deeply observational and concentrated on humanity, often reflect on contemporary political and social issues of the state. His last film, Night Accident (2017) adapted from a short story The Old Man and the Angel by Talip Ibraimov, is no exception. Reflecting on the everyday struggles of an old man in rural Kyrgyzstan, the film meditates on the healing powers of love and human connection. After winning Talinn Black Nights Film Festival in 2017, Night Accident will have its UK premiere this month, brought to London by New East Cinema. Prior to our screening, we spoke to Birnazarov about his work, slow cinema, and the relationship between the Kyrgyz people and their country’s nature.
Congratulations on your beautiful film and its win at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. To begin with, was it easy to bring Night Accident into being, and why was it important to you to tell this story?
Thank you for your kind words and for the opportunity to show Night Accident in London. For me, this film became a creative challenge. That is, the script of the film was written during the filmmaking. In the morning the episodes and scenes were written, and in the afternoon they were shot. Apart from the two leads (the Old Man and the girl), all of the film crew played a very important role, as well as some locals, since the budget did not allow for the payment of other actors. The most interesting thing about shooting this film was that, we, together with the scriptwriter and cameraman, searched and found different locations, as well as objects, and then I sat down to create scenes that would tie all these elements.
The main characteristics of the Kyrgyz today, are the characteristics of ancient nomads, and, the most important of these, is the inseparable connection with nature.
Among the first things that strike the spectator, are definitely the picturesque landscapes which remain central, if not even a character, throughout the film. Kyrgyz directors in the past, such as Tolomush Okeev, have also been predominantly concerned with depicting nature in their work. As Kyrgyzstan is mainly a mountainous, rural region, would you say there is something in the relationship between the environment and the nation that defines Kyrgyz people?
Mountains, and in general nature, remain the most important aspect in the life of the Kyrgyz people, since it actually shaped the nomadic lifestyle of the nation. As nomads, Kyrgyz people have always lived in close contact with nature. Therefore, everything, from houses to clothing, was meant to adapt to changing weather and places. The main characteristics of the Kyrgyz today, are the characteristics of ancient nomads, and, the most important of these, is the inseparable connection with nature.
Your main character, often referred to as Old Man, rediscovers his hope and will to live when he falls in love with a woman much younger than him. This is a topic we also see in one of your previous films, Passion (Strast/Kumar, 2013). What fascinates you in the experience of inter-generational love?
In the film Passion, I tried to convey the loneliness of a person in the modern world: his condition, what leads to two people adopting a consumerist attitude towards each other. It is about the relationship of two nice people, the image of our high-ranking officials.
However, in Night Accident I wanted to show the purity of the soul of a simple, apparently plain and rud man, who for many years has been wasting his life. But, in the end, he falls in love, and he remains true to his feelings. In this film, the girl is a killer, she brings death, but also brings love and beautiful feelings to the Old Man.
The pace of the film perfectly communicates the feeling of living a monotonous everyday life, filled with uneventful and repetitive routines – something that the life of the old man certainly is before the titular night accident. Is Slow Cinema an approach you find fascinating as an auteur, and what is its place in Kyrgyz national cinema?
In our times, unfortunately, we live life in a schematic manner. That means that our entire life is spent in a hurry. We hasten to grow up, we hurry to die. Roughly speaking, we run to the finish line of life. We do not try to stop to feel the mere contentment that life, nature, the environment, bring us. I always try to give the viewer a change, at least on the screen, to truly feel the passage of time, be in contact with nature, rise above life and time. Through slow cinema, the spectators can experience the situation of the heroes, empathize, cleanse themselves. I am trying to convey the reflectiveness behind what is happening on the screen. After several awards at film festivals, few colleagues began to apply the visual aesthetics and tempo of my films in their own work- and this makes me very happy.
In recent years, Kyrgyz cinema has been more widely seen and appreciated in the West, albeit predominantly at film festival circuit. What is your prognosis on the future of Kyrgyz cinema, and how do you feel working in its present?
If previously Kyrgyz cinema was perceived merely in terms of ethnographically beautiful themes, then this last film fortunately began to raise more general themes, not just random or cheap stories, it began to acquire a deeper meaning, forcing the viewers to think. Moreover, in Kyrgyz cinema, I feel very uncomfortable myself, as my films are not successful in my homeland. Unfortunately, Kyrgyz spectators do not seem to be spiritually and intellectually ready to appreciate such films. Currently, the commercial genre is what prevails in our films, productions created to please the masses. Hence, it is very difficult for me to predict the fate of auteur-driven cinema- and still, it pleases us that our viewers come to the cinema to watch films like this.
To conclude with, is there a project you are working on at the moment and what can we expect from the future films of Temirbek Birnazarov?
Nowadays, I am trying to find means for my new project The Birth of a Terrorist– which touches on a very relevant problem. Officially, it is considered that around 600 people have left Kyrgyzstan for Syria. In addition, around another 400 have been linked to the spread of extremist religious ideas. How can we stop the youth, and what pushes them to do this? This is what my next film will be about. I think the whole world needs to fight against this evil.