How did you get into filmmaking? Please tell us something about yourself and your background.
I entered the cinema through the theatre. I was an actor in our local theatre called Kanibadam, named after Tuhfa Fozilova. After working for five years, I decided to do a theatre director course. I graduated with honors and became a director. We successfully staged performances at international festivals.
I once calculated how much time and effort we spend on preparing for a performance (4-5 months of rehearsals), and how many viewers we will have (maximum 3000). On balance, the first outweighed the second. I wanted to attract more viewers, and cinema was more suitable for this purpose. That's why I started making my films about ordinary people, their problems, moral dilemmas, and about human values. I initiated the opening of my film studio in the Sughd Region with state support. I shot ten films in ten years, mostly full-length feature films, but also some documentaries, a short film and even a TV series. Thereafter, I did the higher course in direction at All-Russian State University of Cinematography named after S. A. Gerasimov (a.k.a. VGIK). Our film Fortune is my thesis. Usually, for a student, a thesis is his first film. Even though I've made 10 films so far, I still feel like a student. Because after studying, I understood a lot, set the high bar for myself and began to create my best film to date - Fortune.
Fortune seems a rather difficult film as a first feature since it is set in historical context. How did you choose the subject?
I already had my own small team of people who went through fire and water with me. We have developed our own thinking and we understand each other completely. I had experience behind me, so I boldly began to realize my old dream - to show the world of my childhood. For me, this is a very personal film. The story of my family was the inspiration for this film. That little boy who rides on the back of the old man is essentially me.
How long did you take to write the screenplay? Tell us about your writing process.
My faithful co-author of the script, Bakhtiyor Karimov, and I have been writing and finalizing the script for two years.
As a director, whom did you take inspiration from for this film?
We took inspiration from the works of the Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore - The Legend of 1900 and Cinema Paradiso. We loved the mise-en-scene, the acting, the drama of the male characters and the atmosphere of sad but good nostalgia in his films.
What was your process of conceptualising your shots, mood, overall feel and vision? Do share your journey as a director. How did you work with the actors and cinematographers and how long did you spend on pre-production?
When we began filming, we did not have most of the promised money in hand. But we turned a blind eye to everything and started filming, getting into debt (which we still have to pay off)! We found a town where all the young people had left to work in other countries. Only the old people remained. Much has been preserved in the town from the earlier times: tablets, signs, a post office building, an old factory nearby, a railway and abandoned houses. It was the perfect place to create the atmosphere we needed. Also, some very kind local people helped us in everything, even played as extras (later we arranged a special show for them). Difficulties arose regarding the search for old cars, but even here they offered help. It turned out that old cars were perfectly preserved here. We bought a brand new Moskvich from a local collector, looked for costumes and props, consulted the older generation, borrowed photographs from albums.
Which camera is the film shot on?
We decided to shoot such an ambitious film on ARRI. In the studio "Tajikfilm" there was such a camera, but another director was using it. And we have already begun our work. We rented another ARRI camera and started filming with it. Then we received a camera from "Tajikfilm".
What were the challenges you faced while shooting the film?
The biggest problem was casting. We travelled to all the theaters in the country, trying to find new talent. The fate of an actor is unenviable in our country. Few films are being made. There remains the theatre, which almost no one goes to. I have worked in the theatre and I know every professional actor in the country. Almost all of them have acted in my films. In this case, it so happened that after we had approved an actor for the role, he told us that he had been offered another role abroad, with a good fee. Two actors died after their roles were confirmed. We decided to smooth out all the shortcomings, using the actors’ potential to the maximum. One of the lead actors broke his nose on the tracks, but he was still happy that we filmed such a difficult scene. Poor actors...
What was the crew size?
We have a small team of less than ten people, everyone has to deal with several tasks at once.
You were the director as well as the producer for the film. How did you manage both tasks?
Since I am the head of a state-owned film company, during filming I can be asked to attend meetings or write reports. I look for sponsors for our projects myself, I convince the owner of the house where we were allowed to shoot that we would return the house to him safe and sound, I go to another city to pick up the actors; along the way I buy food for the crew, and I also have to see where I can find military men with real automatic firearms. I request my acquaintances to lend me money for a while to cover expenses. As you know, such multitasking is not good for creativity. This is the case with all members of the film crew. Each person does the work of two and receives a small salary. Those who felt it was not profitable for them, left. Only the enthusiastic ones remained. That's how we live. But no one loses heart, everyone believes that he is doing something important, believes he is contributing to the development of culture.
How did you go about raising finance for this film? What was your budget? And how do you plan to recover the money? Will this film be released in theatres or on OTT in your country?
For me, Fortune was an important statement. I am interested in the topic of lost generations, of people who cannot realize their potential owing to circumstances beyond their control. I consider this to be a great tragedy in a person's life. Our film talks about such people and about how not to repeat this. There were few viewers in Tajikistan. We barely paid back the invested funds and are now gradually paying back our debts. We want to find a suitable streaming service and make new films with the money we earn. We priced such a complex and costly project at $100,000. Now imagine what we could do if we had a million. Tajikistan is an amazing country with fantastic landscapes, mountains, steppes, deserts, springs, mountain villages, ruins of ancient cities, abandoned industrial towns, colourful people and a rich history. Our task is to inform the world about all this.
Can you tell us little bit about the situation of cinema in your country?
In Soviet times, cinema and theatre were well developed in Tajikistan, and people often visited them. But then the Soviet Union collapsed and a civil war began. There followed a period of restoration. That's why people were not up to it. Now things are calm, life has begun to improve. But over these 30 years, the culture of going to the cinema and theatre has disappeared. Young people watch Netflix on their smartphones, while older people buy pirated DVDs (which may include eight or more films) for a couple of cents at the local bazaar. In other words, the older people do not care about the quality of the film. They just want them cheap.
What is your next project about?
The success of Fortune helped the team to become more self-confident, and attracted aspiring directors and screenwriters to the company. We are already seeing their first steps in the cinema. I managed to write two scripts during post-production and now I'm working on them. They will also be about ordinary people who are looking for their place in this world.
How does it feel after winning the NETPAC award at the festival?
The NETPAC Festival is the sixth festival where our film has been shown and the first where we have won. I won't forget that feeling when I sat next to award nominees who had a film budget of millions of dollars, when we had only $100,000. Someone had a premiere in Cannes, someone was on the Oscar shortlist. And here I am, sitting with wonderful directors in the same row ... For me, this was already an award, and the victory in the nomination was a complete surprise for me. When I got on stage, I couldn't find the words, so I just thanked everyone.
We participated in three festivals in different states of India (there are several more to come), and in each we were warmly welcomed and supported. We want to thank all the organizers for the opportunity to show our work in a country with a rich cinema history, and for the high appreciation of our film. We believe that everyone who watches the film will like it and that everyone will find an echo of their story there.
Edited by Dr. Latika Padgaonkar