Acting Chairperson of the Management Board of the Non-commercial JSC State Center for Support of National Cinema Gulnara SARSENOVA:
WE COULD DOUBLE THE NUMBER OF MOVIE THEATRES, IT IS DIFFICULT BUT REAL
The State Center for Support of National Cinema was created at the Ministry of Culture and Sport to implement the Law on Cinematography passed in January this year. Acting Chairperson of the Management Board of the Non-commercial JSC State Center for Support of National Cinema Gulnara SARSENOVA talked in an interview with Interfax-Kazakhstan on what work the center did in six months and what measures should be taken in order to raise the level of the domestic film industry.
- Gulnara Bolatovna, what is the strategic policy of the State Center for Support of National Cinema like?
- The priority area of the center’s activity is financing and monitoring movie projects meeting national interests. Our main tasks are the support for domestic cinematography, increasing its competitiveness, attracting investments in the field of cinema, releases of national movies and much more.
It is also important for us to create the national film industry to be capable of making money. At the same time, in the pursuit of profit, we must not forget about high arts, shaping good taste and preserving humanitarian values.
I also emphasize that the successful development of the film industry includes not only financing, but also production controls, assistance in promoting movie projects, the contemporary film market formation in Kazakhstan, our films presentations abroad, and of course, training. "Cadres decide everything!" - This slogan never becomes out of date.
In our work, we must return to the rating system. Contemporary cinema features high technology, and our experts must be true professionals. A random person, by definition, cannot make a movie. He must get vocational education and only then we will work with him.
And, of course, we must create a unified automated control system for film distribution (single cinema ticket), which will help shape correctly the entire cinema policy of the state and our state center.
- Does the launch of the single ticket system have its deadlines?
- The Ministry of Culture and Sport set us concrete tasks and deadlines, and we should implement this system in the country's movie theatres next year. Currently domestic IT companies are making first developments. Possibly we will turn to the experience of Russia, where this system is already working well. The analytical part of the Unified Automated Information System (UAIS) is especially of interest to us. Thanks to the single cinema ticket system, the state, movie releasers, distributors and producers will have access to a full and reliable picture of the state of the national viewing audience cinema in online monitoring mode; herewith it will be possible to get reports on the effectiveness of their own activities in the movie release field and screening. This is a new, promising standard of the open civilized film distribution market!
- In Kazakhstan 320 movie theaters operate. In Russia the objective is set to reach the target of 4,200 movie theaters by the end of 2024. How many movie theaters should be in Kazakhstan in the near future?
- Currently, small towns and rural district centers are badly affected where there are no movie theaters. There should be one movie theater, at least, in each rural district center. I think we could double the number of our movie theaters. It is difficult, but real. There were about 5,000 movie theaters in the Soviet Union, plus 150,000 mobile cinema facilities that spectators always waited for. Across the CIS countries we must reach this figure. We have common mentality and need single cinema space.
- It has been already a long time since we have been talking about the problem of film distribution. In movie theaters movies are shown going as an application to high-quality cinema, and there is no room for other films in the distribution network, including Kazakhstan-made ones.
- These are tricks of movie theaters. Film distribution – this is business, which is interested in receiving high revenues. And such income can only be generated with movie theaters full [of spectators] . But in the absence of proper cinema culture, the film distribution industry is filled with fantasy films, blockbusters and the so-called "fast food films". This is the problem of the whole world - how to educate an intelligent viewer, how to teach them to watch a good, proper movie. Just like reading good books or dressing stylishly, or choosing correctly healthy foods.
- Does the Center for Support of National Cinema plan to regulate the quality of movies shown?
- Sure. An expert council has been created at the center, which consists of our country's lead filmmakers. These professionals do select applications, assess the artistic level of scripts. This is some kind of arts council, which now, unfortunately, has disappeared. But there should be censorship. This was recognized first by the United States and China, not us. Currently there is a big debate ongoing over censorship in Russia's cinematography. We also need it. We must set our framework of a proper attitude to other countries, to life around us, even to ethics.
Many Kazakhstani producers say that it is also necessary to issue a film distribution certificate on a chargeable basis, especially to foreign film production companies that get huge profits from movie releases in the country. This concerns especially the American film industry. Our dream is to issue film distribution certificates through the state center, which, knowing the local film market and the national film industry, knowing which films will be released, will be able to regulate revenue from inside. This is now being implemented by many countries. China is very tough in this aspect. Or, say, try to enter the US film market, where the state department works well and controls all digital production. If we want to safeguard the independence and identity of our country, we must also do this.
- Will you take into consideration the uneasy experience of the Russian cinema, including negative, in the work of the Center for Support of National Cinema? Let us recall the problems of the movie 'Matilda', shot with public money and received a challenging public outcry.
- There is risk certainly. Unfortunately, our entire history; especially the latest is extremely subjective. In the textbooks of some countries something is written, in the other countries – something different. For me, it was a big shock when we were shooting the serial 'Astana is my love!' in Turkey and heard how on May 9 the Turks began talking about gratitude to America, which saved the world from Nazism. But we perfectly know the real history. Or the terrible famine topic. One cannot but speak out about it either, but it's necessary to speak in the right way, explaining that it’s not people who are to blame, but the political system. Therefore, it is important that there be a body to monitor this and raise the alarm if there is any nationalistic bias in film production. It is necessary to revive healthy patriotism and indifference to the fate of our country, create effective points of interaction between the state and civil society.
- What was difficult for you when selecting this year's movies?
(a reminder that in August 2019 at the meeting of the inter-ministerial commission on state financial support for national films the first competitive selection of film projects were summed up)
- Honestly, it was difficult. The inter-ministerial commission is an independent body that protects public interests. It includes representatives of the ministries, MPs, trade union activists. When I reported on 60 projects that were presented there, each member of the commission assessed them from the state perspective. Personally, it was useful and interesting for me to listen to what they said. Although I argued with some of them shouting myself hoarse.
- Were there projects that did not receive funding, but which you liked?
- There were. Unfortunately, the commission generally reacted negatively to joint film production. There was no understanding that co-production is a link to the other film markets and to another professional level. But as a producer, I think this is necessary. I am grateful to the co-producers, as a result of which the 'Mongol', 'Tulip' and 'Ayka' were created. As a businesswoman, I knew in advance that with their large production budget we wouldn’t refund the money spent on the films. But on the other hand the whole world learned about Kazakhstan.
Currently Kazakhstan is open for filming foreign movies. The Law on Cinematography introduced the concept 'rebate', that is, reimbursement to foreign companies of part of funds spent in Kazakhstan (figures vary up to 30%). This is important because the whole world has long been working on this system. And we also arrived at this. Moreover, this is not only investment for Kazakhstan, it is a new level of tourism development. After all, our nature is unique. Where you will see such picturesque mountains or lakes, with huge pine trees that amaze the imagination, singing dunes, the Charyn Canyon, which is even more beautiful than the Grand Canyon in the USA.
- Gulnara Bolatovna, it turns out that after the long discussion, adjustments and, finally, the adoption of the Law on Cinematography the top management of the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came forward to criticize the law and the State Center for Support for National Cinema. One of the well-known Internet portals has recently posted this stuff.
- Yes, it is the case. But personally, the very fact of this publication leaves me at least perplexed because the Law on Cinematography was signed by the president on January 3 and only now, 9 months later, the top management of this Academy suddenly decided to react to it. I point out the top management directly because the members of the academy, among them the distinguished Vladimir Tyulkin, Ahan Satayev, Serik Abishev, Adilhan Erjanov, Darejan Omirbayev, Ernar Kurmashev will already be getting state funding within the framework of our center. Some of them attended a press conference held on Cinema Day on September 12, and I heard no questions from them regarding this topic. Maybe, die the academy top management need to listen to their fellow academicians first?
And yet, we see, unfortunately, the factor of legal illiteracy. The top management of the Academy is unhappy with the unencrypted concept ‘authorized body’. But in jurisprudence, the concepts set out in laws are quite often just concepts. And this is normal legal practice - not to designate a concrete agency responsible for its compliance in terms of meanings. In our case, the government decree dated April 26, 2019 states that it is Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Culture and Sport.
The top management of the Academy is also worried about mechanisms for protecting the interests of filmmakers that are not prescribed by the law. But when passing the Law on Cinematography, the MPs passed the accompanying Law on Amendments to Kazakhstan’s Several Legislative Acts on the Issues of Cinematography. It clarifies the procedures for relationships between individuals, legal entities, state authorities and local executive bodies. And in the future, more other bylaws and government decrees will be further adopted.
In addition, the top management of the Academy is not happy that now the future of Kazakhstan’s cinema will be decided by amateur officials who are far from the actual needs and problems of cinematography. This is apparently spoken about the members of the expert council and the inter-ministerial commission. I think they themselves will comment on this if they consider it necessary. But I will speak anyway about myself. It’s hard to call me, to put it mildly, ‘far from cinematography’, after being nominated for an Oscar, two nominations of my shortlisted films for the same award, successes in Cannes, Montreal, London, Bussan and other victories at grade A film festivals’, after receiving the honorary title ‘Person of the Year in Asian Cinema.’
Well, then we hear commonplace demagogy when we are told that "any measures will be in vain if we do not return once again to the comprehensive concept of the development of the film industry, with which everything, commonly speaking, began and that dictates what the law should be like. This is a topic for a separate discussion.” Of course, it is hard to disagree with this, as well as with the fact that the only serious achievement of the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in essence, is the Eurasia Film Festival held twice and the Tulpar Award. Actually, these projects were carried out with the money from a “ministry undeciphered by law " and were strongly supported by "dilettante officials." This, it seems to me, is also the topic of a big separate conversation.
And a couple of words about the competence of the Academy itself. In Russia, the founders of the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (in fact, the exact namesake of ours) are not only lead filmmakers, but also a number of state and public organizations, whose role in the development of Russian culture can hardly be overestimated. Among them are the Ministry of Culture, the Union of Cinematographers, the Academy of Sciences and federal television channels. And this is also a topic for a separate discussion.
In general, it is not nice to respond to unconstructive and incomprehensible criticism of your colleagues who could help us at a new stage of the development of our home country’s film industry or, at least, not to hinder and not to create disunity and confusion in understanding and solving real problems of such complex but beautiful world of cinema. Let's just work!
- Thank you for the interview!
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