Alternativa Film Project Fetes Social-Impact Cinema From Central Asia



The first edition of the Alternativa Film Project wrapped with an award ceremony this weekend in Almaty, the cultural capital of Kazakhstan, with filmmakers from Central Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific region being feted as part of a new initiative launched by the California-based tech company inDrive, best known for its ride-hailing app.

The event marked a successful close to what organizers hope will be an ongoing non-profit initiative aimed at supporting emerging filmmakers from under-developed film industries. Along with this weekend’s award ceremony, the Alternativa Film Project is developing a multi-pronged approach that includes training labs, public film screenings, pitching workshops and networking events. 

The project’s emphasis is on movies that champion efforts to combat social injustice in the world. “We want to motivate talented filmmakers to create meaningful art, impactful art,” said inDrive CEO Arsen Tomsky.

In keeping with that focus, the awards — which were accompanied by cash prizes totaling $100,000 — eschewed traditional categories such as best film or best director to celebrate achievements in promoting social justice. The goal, said Alternativa Film Project head Liza Surganova, was to reward films that “combine artistic merits and a social element.”

In the Spotlight category, which recognizes films that shed light on crucial topics previously overlooked by the public, the award went to Kyrgyz director Mirlan Adbykalykov for “Bride Kidnapping,” a harrowing film based on an ancient marriage tradition in Kyrgyzstan. A Jury Special Mention went to Uzbekistan’s Shokir Kholikov for “Sunday,” a debut feature that follows an elderly couple resisting the pull of modernity in their small Uzbek village, which was named best film in the Asian New Talent section of the Shanghai International Film Festival this year.

Mirlan Adbykalykov’s “Bride Kidnapping” played at the Busan Film Festival.
Courtesy of Busan Film Festival

The Future Voice award, which goes to a director poised to make a significant impact on the film industry and society, went to Kazakh filmmaker Askhat Kuchinchirekov for “Bauryna Salu” (Adoption) (pictured, top), a moving coming-of-age drama that explores a nomadic custom that sees newborns adopted and raised by other family members. Kuchinchirekov’s debut played in the San Sebastian Film Festival’s New Directors strand.

The award in the Alter category, which is dedicated to films addressing critical social issues with a compelling call to action for societal change, went to Kazakh director Katerina Suvorova for “Qoryqpa” (“Don’t Be Afraid”), a rousing documentary that looks at a period of protest and unrest among Kazakhs looking to overturn a repressive political order.

In the Nativa category, celebrating films delving into themes of national or cultural identity, the award went to Nepalese directing duo Radjan Kathet and Sunir Pandey for their documentary “No Winter Holidays,” which follows two lifelong rivals in a dying village who must forget their past to help each other survive a long and harsh winter. The Short Award for best short film from the focus region of Central Asia went to Kyrgyzstan’s Dastan Madalbekov for “Son of the Sun.”

Finally, the Resonance award, which was presented to a film that has garnered notable public acclaim, went to Kazakh director Aisultan Seitov for “Qas” (Hunger), a tense period drama that follows a gravedigger faced with a harrowing choice during the 1930s famine in Soviet Kazakhstan. Seitov was named best director in the Asian New Talent section in Shanghai earlier this year.

The jury for the Alternativa Film Project awards was headed by prolific and acclaimed Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza, who was joined by filmmakers Gita Saedi Kili, Udaya Prasanna Vithanage and Rintu Thomas, as well as producer Bayan Alaguzova, journalist Vyacheslav Abramov, Kyrgyz director Ruslan Akun, Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova and illustrator and stop-motion animation filmmaker Ania Chubinidze. In total, 350 films from 25 countries were submitted to the event’s first edition.

While this year’s edition focused on Central Asia, Tomsky said he has ambitious plans to turn the Alternativa Film Project into an initiative with global reach. “It will be a nomadic event. We want to give opportunities to participate in this to all filmmakers in developing countries,” he said. “I hope in the next 10, 20 years, we will make a huge positive impact on the world, especially in countries where a lot of social injustice exists.”


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