In January 2018, my friend Barbara, videographer and communication specialist, and myself had a mad idea born from a few glasses of wine and a long-felt desire to work together on a creative project. As we both love travelling, exploring and capturing moments on film, we thus decided to go and shoot a documentary film in a country that we knew nothing about: Kyrgyzstan. Its lunar landscapes, semi-nomadic lifestyle and tourist (almost) free remoteness convinced us to give it a try. A few weeks later, without having a specific protagonist in mind for our film, the flight tickets were booked and the date was set: in August 2018, we would be in Kyrgyzstan shooting our very first documentary film.
And.... that's where things got complicated! After countless nights spent pulling out our hairs on the angle we wanted to give to the film, we finally decided to focus on the question of Kyrgyz youth and internal migrations, addressing the movements from rural to urban spaces in a world where traditions and modernity are often mutually refractory yet undeniably intertwined. We had absolutely no idea how to find heroes or how to make this work on camera. But we wanted to give it a try and get away from the stereotypical vision of Central Asia conveyed by tourism agencies, according to which every Kyrgyz citizen lives in a Yurt, performs traditional dances and rides a horse before being able to walk! We wanted to go beyond this seemingly monochromatic society and meet people bearing different truths and realities, or at least as much as can be in less than one month on site. But between the language and the virtual barriers, it was easier said than done.
Yet after six months of reading everything we could on Kyrgyzstan and sending hundreds of emails everywhere, we finally found several contacts in the country that could lead to potential protagonists. The day we took off from Brussels airport, our itinerary was more than uncertain and we knew we were entering a phase of complete uncertainty as to the people we would meet and the roofs we would sleep under. Adventure was out there, and we were ready for it!
In an attempt to avoid spoiling our film, I will thus just say this: after scouring the country for three weeks with our 25kg of gear and audio-visual material on the back, we eventually managed to interview more than 15 people on their conception of traditions, nomadism, sovietism, family, gender norms or even love. From Gulmira // kidnapped by her husband 30 years ago and living a shepherd's life in the mountains milking cows every morning at 4.30 am, to Japar // beekeeper and former mechanic passionate about calm, nature, and international politics, without forgetting Dzum // young artist living in Bishkek and painting mythical warriors with a wolf teeth hanging around his neck or Sacha // passionate adept of namaste-ism who decided to lead a hippie community living in Tipis on lake Issyk Kul: we truly discovered a multi-faceted country rooted in intricate post-soviet cultural references and stratified identities.
Now looking towards the next few months, we will be working hard on editing the 2000Go of images we collected in English, Russian and Kyrgyz. So many things were said and shared, so many points of views exchanged and we still have to figure out how to shape these stories into one film. But we remain optimistic: in the end, this adventure has only just begun and we will be happy to share the results of our work with you in 2019!
Also, not to end it there, we decided that our project in Kyrgyzstan could be but the first of many more! That is why we decided to launch Mad Tipi, an independent visual arts production company based in Brussels, which aims at producing movies, documentaries and photographic reportages promoting human encounters and cultural exchanges, both at local and international levels. Through its fictional and journalistic productions, Mad Tipi aims at bringing together artists from different locations and backgrounds to collaborate and create mad projects together! But there will be more to come soon on that note. In the meantime, follow us @MadTipi on Facebook and Instagram if you want to be updated!