Fribourg puts Central Asia in the picture

The festival is giving viewers a taste of Central Asia

This year’s Fribourg International Film Festival is offering a rare glimpse of Central Asia, with 50 movies from former Soviet-bloc nations tracing the region’s tumultuous recent history.

This content was published on March 21, 2004

The festival, which started on Sunday, focuses once again on films from emerging countries, with a host of premieres from Latin America and Africa.

One of the most talked-about films of the week-long event is likely to be “Memoria del saqueo” (“Memories of a sacking”), an uncompromising look at former Argentine President Carlos Menem’s years in office.

In his film, director Fernando Solanas lays the blame for the country’s economic collapse squarely at Menem’s door, accusing him of plundering national resources.

Solanas’s film, which will premiere in Fribourg, is being screened alongside a series of other films focusing on the Latin American country’s economic woes.

“There’ll be seven documentaries from Argentina, all raw, very low budget productions which sometimes give a shocking insight into what’s going on in Argentina today,” said Jodok Kobelt, the festival’s spokesman.

One of them, “Brukman: Control Obrero” (“Brukman: Workers’ control”), documents an industrial strike in 2001 which has since come to symbolise the economic crisis.

Striking images of Argentina will also be on display at an exhibition of photographs, staged as part of the festival.


Fribourg is also giving audiences an insight into Central Asia, with a series of films from the former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

“Movies always played an important role in the USSR,” explained Kobelt.

“But since gaining independence in 1991, people in these countries have been trying to find new ways of making films, moving away from propaganda towards a personal approach to storytelling.

“And on one level, you can see some similarities with Switzerland. These are mountainous regions, with many ethnic and language groups trying to live together.”

Film-makers in the region have struggled to find distributors and funding, according to Kobelt, which is why Fribourg’s organisers have teamed up with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to support the industry in the region.

The SDC is organising the first-ever Central Asian film festival in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, next year.

No easy watch

Other highlights at this year’s festival include “Moi et mon blanc” (“Me and my white man”), a co-production from Burkina Faso that takes a humorous look at the issue of integration.

But, lighter touches aside, Fribourg will be demanding a lot from its audiences this year.

“We’ve chosen films that are not that accessible, where spectators are being asked to do more than sit back and watch,” he explained. “But we know that the people who come here want to dive into a culture and that they come to learn something.”

Fribourg is again organising a series of special sessions for younger audiences. Some 9,000 children and teenagers are expected to attend 11 screenings, which will be followed by discussion groups and talks with directors.

“Children are likely to make up around a quarter of our audience,” said Kobelt.

“We think that getting in touch with foreign cultures through film opens up one’s horizons far more than a geography lesson about a country.”

The Fribourg International Film Festival runs from March 21 to 28.

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock

Key facts

Fribourg International Film Festival 2004:
Around 13 feature films, including five premieres, are competing for the Regard d’Or prize and the Special Jury prize.
There are ten films competing for the documentary prize, including “Final Solution” which looks at the lives of Muslims in India.
There are 50 films from Central Asia retracing the history of former Soviet-bloc countries.

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