Festival Reports

The Metaphorical Portrait of Nation

System Administrator Monday October 26, 2015

The NETPAC Award at Yakutsk International Film Festival went to a native Yakutian film, Djesegei Aiyy (God of Horses) by Sergei Potapov.

The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is a remote part of the Russian Federation, located in the north of Russian Asia (you can describe it as Siberia or Far North-East). This is where the third edition of Yakutsk International Film Festival was held. Previous editions had been dedicated to so-called Arctic films. This year (2015), though, the festival changed its regulations: from now on, there will be two competitions - Arctic cinema and cinema by Turk-Mongolian people which represent two sides of Yakutian identity. The Sakha people live in an Arctic environment (as do Inuit tribes of Canada or Scandinavian northerners), but their origins and cultural roots are connected with Central Asian civilizations. The Yakutian language belongs to the Turkic group (an isolated and very archaic branch). The native Sakha religion (shamanism), traditions, epic and folk stories have many parallels in the cultures of Mongol nations. That is why the festival organizers decided to create a new Turko-Mongol competition and invite a NETPAC jury to judge it. Eight films from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, China (Inner Mongolia) and Russian regions (Buryatia, Tatarstan, Kalmyk Republics) were screened.

It must be admitted that it was not for any ideological reason that Djesegei Aiyy from Yakutia won the NEPAC award. Nor was it because of the jury’s kind intention of wanting to support the progress of local cinema (there are around 15 full-length films released every year in the Republic). Aiyy’s film was simply the best.

This black & white film gives the audience a unique combination of a documentary style and a mythological way of thinking, and presents an authentic Yakutian worldview. The story takes place at the end of June, when the Yakut people celebrate the traditional New Year (called Yhyakh). Anthropologists describe this celebration as the most important Yakutian folk festival: “It includes sacrifices in honour of gods and spirits, songs in their honour, feasting, round dances, sporting competitions and various games”. The ancestors of contemporary Sakha believed that the heavenly deity Djesegei (God of Horse) comes down and stays for a while among the ordinary people during Yhyakh.

The director uses motives from ancient legends to create a new storyline. He tells the story about love, loss, sacrificial death of the hero and his miraculous resurrection. The young man and the girl meet at the folk festival, they lose each other and find each other again. Little by little, the audience realizes that these lead characters embody two hypostasis - they are a young earthly couple and the deities/heavenly lovers at the same time. The film was shot by four cameraman during the Yhyakh celebration over one and a half days only. The actors tried out different techniques: they provoked, they dialogued with the festival guests and behaved like ordinary visitors. As for the common people in this film, they are not just the background or participants of crowd scenes; they actually represent the authentic 'collective body' of their nation, Sakha.

Sergei Potapov, is well known in Russia and abroad as a daring, unpredictable and one of the best theatrical directors of the Siberian region. His filmography includes five full-length movies, which have won a few awards at local festivals and at Russian festivals of ethnic cinema. The NETPAC Award for Djesegei Aiyy was his first international prize.

-by Sergei Anashkin

My e-mail: Sergei Anashkin se-gart@yandex.ru

Director’s e-mail: Sergei Potapos mr.sergeypotapov@mail.ru

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