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The 1st Bishkek International Film Festival (November 17-21, 2023)

Bishkek, named after the mythical and legendary Kyrgyz hero who unified the various Kyrgyz tribes, is the capital of Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous Central Asian country of seven million inhabitants, plus a million Kyrgyz citizens working in the Russian Federation.

Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. It is famous for Lake Issyk-Kul, an inland sea, horse riding, national parks and cinema. Director Tolomush Okeev is the leading figure of the Soviet period (The Sky of Our Childhood – Nebo Nashego Detstva, The Descendant of the Snow Leopard – Potomok Belogo Barsa, The Fierce – Lyutyy, Bow to the Fire – Poklonis Ognyu, The Red Apple – Krasnoe yabloko…). For the post-Soviet period, since

Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1992, Aktan Arym Kubat Abdykalykov, director who won the Silver Leopard at Locarno (Le Fils adoptif- Beshkempir), was twice selected at Cannes (The Chimp – MaimylThe Light Thief) and has attended the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas several times, either as President of the International Jury or as guest of honor for a retrospective of his films.

Bishkek, named after the Soviet military commander Frunze during the Soviet period, has grown like a mushroom in 200 years. By 1825, a caravan fortress on the Silk Road with a population of seven thousand at the time of the Tsarist conquest, it had become a city of almost a million inhabitants.

The city is built in a checkerboard pattern with wide avenues, imposing administrative buildings, first-rate cultural monuments (the neo-Greco-Roman Italian-inspired Opera House, the functionalist-style Fine Arts Museum, etc.) and public gardens where you can stroll amidst statues imbued with the aesthetics of Soviet realism.

Erke Dzhumakmatov chairman of BIFF between François Delahousse, ambassador of France, Jean-Marc and Martine Thérouanne, festival directors VIFFAC, Etienne Lancelot, cultural advisor

The Bishkek International Film Festival (BIFF) was born of the desire of the current President of the Kyrgyz Republic, S. N. Japarov, to develop the national film industry and film culture.

The BIFF is organized by the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports and Youth, Bishkek City Hall, the Ministry of Culture’s Film Department, and the Chingiz Aitmatov House of Cinema.

The BIFF has chosen a logo and trophy rooted in Kyrgyz culture, a stylized snow leopard. The snow leopard is also the symbol chosen by the city of Bishkek to replace the old coat of arms from the Soviet period.

The aim of the BIFF is to be a unifying platform for film professionals, not only from Kyrgyzstan, but from the whole of Central Asia. The importance of building bridges with the entire European, Asian, American, especially Canadian, and Arab film worlds is emphasized.

The aim of this policy of openness is to revive the Kyrgyz film industry, with its glorious past, by attracting new talent.

Members CAF Pitch jury at Innovation center.

The 1st BIFF will feature screenings of the 31 films in the selection, a pitching program focusing on projects by Central Asian directors and producers, master classes, seminars and sessions on major films.

To mark the occasion and bring the city to life, the BIFF takes place in a variety of venues : the opening at the Philharmonic Hall, the closing at the National Opera, screenings at the Ala Too and Manas cinemas, seminars at the university, Master Classes at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), a tribute to Chingiz Aitmatov at the National Bookshop, the opening of Turkish Film Week at the Kyrgyz-Turkish University Cultural Center « Manas », the CAF Pitch, supported by the Korean Embassy and the French CNC at the Innovation Center, and so on.

Each venue is chosen with a strong sense of symbolism.

The same goes for the venue where one of the five official dinners is held each evening.

The official program includes 10 films in the international competition, from France (Ouistrehambeteween two worlds by Emmanuel Carrère), Finland (Fallen Leaves by Aki Kaurismäki), Kyrgyzstan (Esimde by Aktan Arym Kubat), Kazakhstan (Scream by Kenzhebek Shaikakov), Yakutia (Don’t bury me without Ivan by director Liubov Borisova), Altai (The Path by Mikhail Kulunakov), Uzbekistan (Sunday by Shokir Kholikov), Iran (Parallax by Shahram Ebrahimi), India (Whispers of Fire and Water by Lubdhak Chatterjee), Japan (Let’s go, Ishikawade by Takashina Takumi), 8 films from the national competition : Shambala by Artykpai Suyundukov, The Road to Eden by Bakyt Mukul and Dastan Zhapar Uulu, Scent of Wormwood by Aibek Daiyrbekov, God’s Gift by director Zhuraeva Asil, Home for sale by Taalaibek Kulmendeev, The Lake by Emil Atageldiev, Narrator by Ernest Abdyzhaparov, God’s sent by Temir Birnazarov), 5 films from the retrospective of Kyrgyz films of yesterday and today, film adaptations of works by the great Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov (The First Teacher by Andrey Konchalovsky – 1965, The White Ship by Bolotbek Shamshiev – 1965, Mother’s Field by Gennady Bazarov – 1968, The red apple by Tolomouch Okeev – 1975, Delbirim by Sarwar Karimov – 2018), of the retrospective of 7 Turkish films produced between 2021 and 2023, With its number 7, “Turkish Cinema Week” is best remembered for Commitment Hasan by Semih Kaplanoglu, president of the international jury, and a 2019 Chinese film, The Composer by Xierzati Yahefu, paying tribute both to its producer Jonathan Shen, invited as a “special guest”, and to the Chinese musician Xian Xinghai, the film’s subject.

Ala Too cinema 

While the Turkish presence was strong, the French presence was also important, with Ambassador François Delahousse and members of the CAF Pitch jury: Martine Thérouanne, director of FICA Vesoul, Johann Chapelan, producer, Lynda Belkhiria, programmer, Xavier Henry-Rashid, critic, Étienne Lancelot, Cultural Advisor, French Embassy, Jean-Marc Thèrouanne, CEO FICA Vesoul.

The Closing Ceremony took place at the Bishkek Opera House in the presence of the Minister of Culture of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Mayor of Bishkek.

Aktan Arym Kubat best director with Esimde.

Among the award-winning films, Ernest Abdyzhaparov’s Narrator received a special mention from Martine Thérouanne, while Emmanuel Carrère’s Ouistreham, between two worlds was awarded the Bishkek City Prize; the Jury Prize went to Scream by Kenzhebek Shaikakov; Esimde by Aktan Arym Kubat, won the Best Director Award; Sunday by Shokir Kholikov, was crowned Best Film.

Khojakuli Narliev (Tree Djamal), Maya-Gozel Aimedova (actress Tree Djamal), Ernest Abdyzhaparov (Narrator)

Seeing Aktan Arym Kubat and Ernest Abdyzhaparov again at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas, and meeting Turkmen cinema master Khojakuli Narliev (The Bride-Nevestka – Tree Djamal- Derevo Dzhamal) were moments of intense emotion for fans of Central Asian cinema Martine and Jean-Marc Thérouanne.

Text written by Jean-Marc Thérouanne on November 22, 2023 on his return from Bishkek.

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