As the city of San Francisco plays host to the 59th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival, Celluloid Cinema got the opportunity to catch up with Kyrgystan director Elnura Osmonalieva to ask her a few questions about her short film Seide. The following answers from the interview are unedited and have been preserved to keep Elnura’s original ideas intact.
Brief Summary of Seide:
While most of us live in a progressive world where free choice is a basic human right, in her film, Seide, Elnura Osmonalieva masterfully uses visual storytelling to transport us to her home country of Kyrgyzstan to demonstrate why this is not a universal truth among women around the world who are often respected in the same regard as farm animals.
One of the things that stuck out to me during the film was the beautiful environment it was filmed in, however while it looked very nice, I’m sure there was a lot of difficulty filming. As a result, did the story change shape in anyway due to the shooting location?
I flew from New York to Kyrgyzstan in early January 2015 to shoot a short in an urban environment. However, upon arriving and meeting actors who I had cast online I changed my mind and decided not to shoot the story. I started changing it and went location scouting. As I drove in search of locations with my DP, Chananun Chotrungroj, we saw nothing but snow and fog with silhouettes of horsemen. It looked and felt beautiful. We stopped the car. The world was filled with cotton like fog and through it came sounds of men and horses very clearly although nobody could be seen except one guy riding a horse. He quickly charged into the thick of the fog and we had to get closer to get a look of the game they were playing. A few minutes later in the car I was thinking of a snow-horse-and human story. As I had always wanted to be able to ride a horse masterfully I started to think of a female character driven story and that is how Seide’s story came about.
The somber tone of the short fits well as it allows the audience to understand that the story that is depicted in the short is something that is accepted and always has been the case within the Kyrgyzstan culture and there is no point in Seide fighting against her parents wishes. With that being said, what were some of the key elements you made sure to include to establish this tone throughout the short?
I wanted to use as little dialogue as possible - Seide both literally and metaphorically has no say in the decision-making. I wanted to show her despair only through her attempt to free the horse as she feels she cannot do anything to get her self out of the situation. She feels that she too, like the horse, is helpless as she has no way of escape. She, like her horse, is a hostage of her affection to her family. She cannot believe they can hurt her and she cannot just leave. So, I chose to show how and what she feels by drawing this parallel between her and the horse. I tried to shoot their close ups together to show through visuals how they are similar – we can see their eyes at the same level, strands of hair moving, their faces next to each other.
Considering both you and Seide are from Kyrgyzstan, are there other similarities you two share, or did combining personalities from those that you knew back home create Seide?
I consider myself much luckier than Seide as I had parents who did everything for me to get good education. I know many young women who are caught between tradition and modernity, culture and personal will. Neither side guarantees happiness and the answer seems to be somewhere in between. I wanted to try to search for it.
As someone not familiar with Kyrgyzstan, is the lifestyle depicted in the film representative of all regions within the country, or is this type of lifestyle exclusive to the more isolated regions?
The lifestyle of Seide’s family is pretty average to the rural areas of Kyrgyzstan. There are four wheel drives and smart phones however no running water in houses and patriarchy prevails. Matriarchy somehow coexists and very informally but the power is only given to the elderly women as you can see in the film.
So far the film has premiered at large festivals such as Venice and Sundance. How have the reactions for the audiences you have shown it to impacted you? Have others reactions to it made you rethink your stance towards the social issues in the film or has your showing of Kyrgyzstan women’s lifestyles opened up discussion among audiences that they have never even thought of before?
The most common responses to the film have been about how beautiful and sad it is. It makes me happy to hear that. I went for a sad and beautiful film. I have received some great feedback about how the film is able to talk about so many things at once. It can be both good and bad for a short film, I guess. Sometime I wish the film was more articulate, but it would then affect its poetry, the sad poetry of dilemma, the drama of life. In my next films I would like to take a further step in addressing women’s rights and hopefully help many women and girls in Kyrgyzstan who find themselves in disadvantaged situations.
The film clearly deals with several gender issues that are just now finally being discussed openly throughout many places in the world, what do you hope your film adds to this discussion?
The film points to the existing problems, it does not offer any solutions, except to make you feel sad and wrong about the issue. I was hoping to show to the elderly people that they can be wrong even when they are wishing well, even the best for their child.
Considering you were working on Seide while having a newborn, in what ways do you hope the social issues discussed in your film will change by the time your children are adults?
I hope that Kyrgyzstan is able to maintain a culture where elderly people are respected and cared for and in return they can respect and care for the personal choices of the younger people. I find it difficult to be on either edge of the spectrum as I see the balance in between. I like how Kyrgyz culture requires us to be loving and caring to the elderly of the family. Having said that I also hope my children won’t come across forced marriages in the future.
Elnura Osmonalieva is a Kyrgyzstan-based writer, director and producer. She is now working on her debut feature film script to complete her graduate studies at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. For anyone that is interested in seeing or learning more about her film Seide you can watch the trailer on the film’s website HERE. Seide will also screen as part of Shorts 1 at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival May 5th at the Roxie Theater.