Interview: Shamil Aliyev – Director of Steppe Man
Interview done by Shailik Bhaumik
Shamil Aliyev was born on June 26 1960 in Baku, Azerbaijan. After graduating from Azerbaijan State Institute of Culture in 1989, he had worked as a film director in “Azerbaijan Film”, a state-owned movie studio. His first feature film “Confession” was shot independently. As a director he further worked on various national TV channels. Mr. Aliyev was an author and director of several projects on TV. Among them “Film Media”, “Cinematography” and “Classicists and Contemporaries” dedicated to such cinematographers as Alfred Hitchcock, K. Zanussi, Andrei Tarkovsky and others. In 1999 he shot his short fiction film “Occasional Meeting” (35mm). He is also a founder and director of NURFILM Producer Center.
Shailik Bhaumik: Shamil, first of all, I would like to congratulate you for winning the 2017 Golden Fox Award with your film “Steppe Man” at Calcutta International Cult Film Festival. “Steppe Man” has been screened in almost every part of the world and it has received so many awards. What actually made you produce this movie?
Shamil Aliyev: Thanks! When I’m preparing to shoot some film, I clearly set a goal and later works are carried out in the scenario. The situation was a little bit different in the case of “The Steppe Man.” I was proposed a scenario of “The Steppe Man” which was the third version of Vidadi Hasanov. Nevertheless, while focusing the scenario around the certain goal, I made some changes and in the end, the film you have seen was made.
Q: While watching the film, the audience may feel that the director is sick of the artificiality of urban life and tries to explore the core values of humanism in the landscape of grassy plains in between Russia and northern Iran. Is it true?
A: Yes. The culture of Iranian Azerbaijanis, our kin, has a very important place in the memory of Azerbaijanis. In addition to our common sacred, metaphysical values, we have a common language. However, with Russia, there is a compulsion of living in the certain segments of the history and feeling impacts of other civilizations. As a sacred area, steppe was a dream of “returning to the root” and feeling the soul of our ancestors for me.
Q: In the 21st century, when the civilized world is engraved with technology and media consumption, why do you think it’s the right time to tell the story of a steppe man?
A: The development and speed of technology condition the speed of globalization. The consciousness of the modern human is turning to be the tragedy of his/her moral world. As though the human is becoming a biomass. The universal values that have been formed for thousands of years start to erode and degrade. Anthropological tragedy. I have tried to raise these questions in the film. In my opinion, the strength of any great artwork is the capacity to raise questions. I was seeking to ask these questions not only the audience but myself as well.
Q: I would say “Steppe Man” is a visual poetry rather than a film. There is amazing synchronization of composition, direction, camera movement and editing. What do you think, which elements of mise en scene are important to create such a visual poetry?
A: We (the main authors) have tried to subject the integrity of genre and style and harmony of the tempo to the image of the film you have seen in “The Steppe Man.” I have been influenced by the genius cinematographers of the world cinema. I am fondly watching films of the directors such as Antonioni, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizuguchi, Robert Bresson, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen. These geniuses have formed my style.
Q: What is the recent trend of Azerbaijan movies? Which genre of film is leading the market and what is the future of independent film in Azerbaijan?
A: The taste of Azerbaijani audience is the same as the taste formed in the big cities around the world. Most of the youngsters prefer entertainment films. Modern Azerbaijani cinema has to try to create its own movie industry.
Q: “Steppe Man” has been screened in so many film festivals. What do you think, should Indie films be made for festivals only or wider audiences as well? How effective are the laurels of Indie Film Fests for the commercial success of a film?
A: In the end, each film has to be made for the audience. In this sense, independent movie festivals are an important arena which emphasizes the cinema as an art form. Cinematography should be the type of art reflecting not only the glory of technology but also the superiority of human mind.
Q: What were the challenges you faced while making films in Azerbaijan?
A: After Azerbaijan became independent, some difficulties arose in the process of filmmaking. The necessity of reforming its own film industry appeared after Azerbaijan separated from the Soviet Union. It will need a couple more years to become truly independent when it comes to cinematography.
Q: What is the most important quality filmmakers need to accomplish their work?
A: The ability to tell the story they have envisioned.
Q: How is the domestic box office performance of “Steppe Man”? Do you think the Box office success is important for a filmmaker?
A: Of course, if the box office performance of “The Steppe Man” was higher, producers could enthusiastically invest in art-house films. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be an important fact for the director. The main goal is to attract the high-taste, intellectual audience. We should work hard to avoid attracting the low-taste audience.
Q: What is your next project?
A: The third version of the scenario of “CARPET,” a full-length feature film is ready. I will try to shoot it.
The story revolves around a blind and deaf carpet weaver, Samad and his wife who recently died. In order to save the artist from starvation, the devastated village replaced his deceased beloved wife with another one, and later with one more. However, very soon these women had to leave Samad. Who will save the artist?
Q: One more question before we say goodbye: What message would you impart to young filmmakers?
A: They should try to learn the science of Anthropology and Aristotle’s “Poetics.”
Shailik Bhaumik is an award-winning filmmaker and entrepreneur. Known for his feature films ‘Dasein’, ‘Burning Butterflies’, Shailik is the founder and Chairman of Cult Critic Film Magazine, which deals with the art, craft and business of Cult Film.