Diary 9 of the Central Asian Scriptwriting Lab: Consultations of Saodat Ismailova

27 October 2021

We continue a series of articles about the work of the Central Asian Scriptwriting Lab (CASL) organised by the UNESCO Office in Almaty as part of the "Strengthening Film Industries in Central Asia" project with the support of the government of the Republic of Korea. This time we want to talk about the work of the project participants with Uzbek filmmaker and artist Saodat Ismailova, who also was also one of the project trainers.

Saodat Ismailova graduated from the Tashkent State Institute of Arts and the French National Studio for Contemporary Art "Le Fresnoy" (2018), where she made the films entitled "Whisper Ox" and "Two Horizons". She has participated in the "Fabrica" Art Residency of the Centre for Research and Communication in Benetton, Italy; the DAAD Art Residency in Berlin, Germany (2005); and the OCA Art Residency of the Office for Contemporary Arts in Oslo, Norway (2017). Her films and art works include "Aral: Fishing in an Invisible Sea", which won Best Documentary at the 2004 Turin Film Festival; the video installation "Zuhra", which participated in the Venice Biennale 2013 at the Central Asian Pavilion; "40 Days of Silence", which was premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2014; the film essay "Enchanted", which premiered at the CPH:DOX International Film Festival in 2017. She is currently directing the CCA LAB of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. She is working on her second feature film "Barazg".

About CASL and the Central Asian film industry

The project trainer from Uzbekistan started her story about the CASL Lab with a background. "My involvement in the project happened as a result of two online events within the ResiliArt movement: "Young Professionals of the Cinema Industry in Central Asia: Future Perspectives during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic" and "Cinema Heritage of Central Asia. Preservation and Promotion Challenge" organized by the UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office in late 2020. During these events, the organizers have asked us questions about the problems of Central Asian cinema. The lack of higher education institutions specialized in drama and scriptwriting proved to be one of the most acute problems for all Central Asian republics after the collapse of the USSR, as in Soviet times playwrights were trained in Moscow".

Ms Ismailova then gave a detailed description of how the Lab participants were selected. "A lot of applications with strong potential were sent in from Kazakhstan. They were of different genres, which already showed that young filmmakers have seen a lot of movies and have an understanding of the international film industry. Kyrgyzstan also presented itself with its more themes "of the soil" based on the country's cultural specificity, as well as the pressing issue of migrant labour and the generation of children left behind in the country who are growing up without parents. The choice of participants was lengthy, as the equality of the participating countries as well as gender equality was to be preserved. However, the most challenging part was determining the potential of the submitted synopses. We unanimously came to the conclusion that we could not limit either the genre or the time span, i.e. we accepted both full-length and short feature film synopses, as well as series, both commercially possible and strictly auteur movie scripts. We also invited participants with the expectation that a certain number of them would either leave on their own accord or due to circumstances arising. In the end, we unanimously chose 24 participants with whom the exciting work began".

About her own consultations

Saodat Ismailova suggested dividing the consultations into two phases, drawing on her experience of personally participating in similar labs. "In the first stage, I talked to each student before they start working as a group to understand the genesis of their stories and why they decided to take on certain topics. I believe that if the writer can answer this question, there is already a certain guarantee in structuring the narrative. These consultations gave an opportunity to hear how the participants verbally narrate their projects, what dynamics come out of them, which is difficult to determine on the basis of synopsis and motivation letter, whether they tell easily, whether they don't get lost in the narrative, whether they can lead the listener to the final so as not to become bored or unclear, whether they can enchant with their narrative. For me, it was already an opportunity to determine how much the writer is on his subject and knows his character. There were good moments when some participants suddenly revealed themselves to be great cameramen, somewhere I realised that a synopsis is a personal lived story, with someone we were communicating with and shared films that could inspire and help understand their film language. Also, this activity outside the lab and assertiveness indicates the involvement of the participants in their profession. But what is most important, and at the same time challenging to assess the participants, is how diverse they are in their understanding of film, stories, goals and intentions".

Observing the work of other trainers, our heroine decided that she could make a productive contribution to the lab by building a visual storyline ("mood board"). "The mood board helps to write more accurately, because finding visual images can help to understand not only the characters, their states and their emotional arches, but also to understand what locations to look for. And most importantly, this document can be used as a clue not only during the pitching process but also to immediately reveal whether the writer has the artistic taste and a sense of composition and how he/she envisions the film. Mood board is also used during meetings with producers, fund managers, cinematographers, i.e. during meetings between associates and the group. This document demonstrates what cannot be described in the text, and cinema is first and foremost about image and sound.

Ms Ismailova also described her own impressions of participating in the project: "The mentoring experience for me was interesting and enriching, as well as a wonderful opportunity to understand the regional potential, hear diverse stories, and get to know a younger generation of filmmakers who hopefully will be in touch after the Lab and possibly collaborate somewhere. It was also nice to meet colleagues from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. As I see it, we had a great team that worked purposefully on how to help participants develop their skills".

On the final pitching of projects and their future

In conclusion, Saodat expressed her confidence that during the final pitching session of the lab, the participants will get at least some interesting experiences and maybe some professional advice and suggestions. "In any case, I think that pitching will lead to constructive and productive reactions on the participants' performances. But I don't think it's necessary to count on a quick investment. Usually producing a film takes at least a year, if not much longer".

Previous Materials:
Introduction of the Project Participants;
Introduction of the Project Trainers;
Diary 1: Reviewing Applications and Selecting Participants;
Diary 2: Consultations of Yulia Levitskaya;
Diary 3: Story of Aizada;
Diary 4: Story of Azizbek;
Diary 5: Story of Hurshed;
Diary 6: Story of Ainur;
Diary 7: Consultations of Iskandar Usmonov;
Diary 8: Consultations of Erke Dzhumakmatova.

Permanent link: http://en.unesco.kz/diary-9-of-the-central-asian-scriptwriting-lab-consultations-of-saodat-ismailova