The Move shows there's life in post-Soviet Kyrgyz cinema
The storyteller in Marat Sarulu soon takes over the conversation, even though the passage of time has by now frayed the edges of some of the memories.
The Kyrgyz filmmaker was about 17 years old when he saw the first film that really made an impact. It was German, and he can't quite remember its title. But Sarulu recalls quite clearly what he saw on the screen and how it revealed to him the power cinema can wield in influencing how we interpret the world around us.
There was a little boy in a train carriage with some injured soldiers, and he was peering out a dark and dirty window and telling them all about the land through which they were passing. The soldiers were transfixed by the tales the boy was spinning - a beautiful woman hanging out the washing, children playing in a park - until one of their number stood up, shoved the boy aside and tried to take over the storytelling duties.
Trouble was, he started describing exactly what he saw: the bleak, rolling, frozen tundra. All fact, no fiction, and the soldiers soon called for the little boy to take up his place by the window once again, so the fantasy could continue.
"I guess that is when I first saw the impact that film could have and how it could be used to tell stories," says Sarulu. "And I guess that's also when I first started to think that one day I could become a filmmaker. I realised then that film can be about more than just entertainment, more than about just trying to make money. Film can really influence how people see the world."
Now 57, Sarulu is among the filmmakers helping to develop an industry in Kyrgyzstan that has emerged out of the massive hold the former Soviet Union's studio system had over Central Asia. It was in countries such as this, and nearby Kazakhstan, that there was the space needed to produce the epics demanded of the state system and so beloved of Russian traditions stretching back to masters such as Sergei Eisenstein.
"Cinema is part of our lives and a way through which we are able to show our country to the world," the director says.
"When the Soviet Union ended, many countries in Central Asia were able to continue making films, as there were locals who had been part of the Soviet system. We inherited a filmmaking legacy from the Soviets and now what you are seeing in these countries is small groups of independent filmmakers creating their own identities."
Sarulu studied at the Kyrgyz National University and then at the famed VGIK in Moscow, before returning to his homeland in the 1990s and expanding his repertoire into photography, poetry and essays while producing a steady stream of his own productions.
His latest effort is epic in all senses of the word. The Move, which had its world premiere at the 19th Busan International Film Festival last October, has been playing on the festival circuit, with a screening at the Rotterdam International Film Festival on Wednesday.
The film stretches to nearly three hours that never seem wasted. It reflects on how an old man (and maybe Kyrgyzstani society itself) gives up his past to ensure the future of his family. "I want to talk about contemporary issues and look at the human condition," says Sarulu.
"Our country like others has undergone many big changes and we are reflecting this in our cinema. We are small, totally independent without any government funding, but we are very strong in our commitment to making films."
Sarulu's film was joined in Busan by director Ernest Abdyjaparov's Kyrgyz-German production Taxi and Telephone, which looks back on the Soviet era in the Kyrgyz Republic through the workings of a call taxi centre. The film reflects on the commonality of humanity and, like Sarulu's offering, gives audiences an insight into a little known filmmaking community.
"In the past five to seven years the trend is that the smaller cinemas are supporting local movies. I think it is natural that as people become better at making films, more people want to see these films," says Sarulu.
"It is important that we give independent filmmakers a voice and continue to show our films at festivals around the world. This helps get us known, maybe helps us find investors, and it helps people learn more about our country and its people."