Tashkent International Film Festival: Ambition, Talent & Fireworks Thrill at Glittering Closing Ceremony

By Mark Law Hitchings | October 20, 2023 8:32 am PDT
The Eternal City, on the outskirts of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, was the location for the glittering closing ceremony of Tashkent International Film Festival

The stagecraft and performances weren’t the only eye-opening spectacles at the closing ceremony of the 15th Tashkent International Film Festival, Uzbekistan (September 29 – October 3). Whilst filmmakers, thespians, press, and the great and the good of Uzbek film and television watched the electric awards show centred around a vast rotating coliseum somewhere near the Tajik border, many were chattering about the choice of host, one Mr. Kevin Spacey. With opinion in this part of the world still overwhelmingly guided by Russian news media, perhaps the controversial actor hadn’t featured quite as overtly in the press when the festival’s bookers were selecting their emcee. 

Whilst it was this journalist that broke the story of our host’s health scare that melted Google sometime back in October, it was perhaps more astonishing to view the time, effort and talent that went into the ceremony in what is referred to as Uzbekistan’s second city. Attendees were treated to a series of dance troupes, orchestral numbers and singers, the perfect choreography matching the expert timing.

The Eternal City was the setting for the evening’s entertainment: a mock mediaeval Uzbek bazaar and village designed and built as part of the astonishingly expensive and luxurious Silk Road Samarkand Resort somewhere on the outskirts of the Samarkand. 

It transpires that Samarkand’s city centre is a civil engineer’s living nightmare, jam-packed as it is with historical monuments, meaning when the Chinese Minyoun Hospitality Group was deciding where to break ground, the location chosen in which to plough their eye-watering budget to build a hub of spectacular, soaring luxury hotels with conference centres and malls, was a manmade lake designed for ex-Soviet rowers to practise their coxless fours somewhere to the east of the city. 

An Extravagant Schedule

The festival program in Samarkand followed a machine gun series of energetic warm-up events in Tashkent itself, including a red-carpet event, screenings, several sumptuous dinners, as well as the awards ceremony for the ‘Cinema in 5 Days’ event, where entrants are given a theme – think something ethereal; The Beauty of Uzbekistan, for example – and given five days to complete a short narrative film. Ambitious young directors from across Central Asia took up the challenge, with many of the final products turning out to be very solid offerings, considering the limited time and resources available. 

What was unusual about this section of this particular evening’s events was the spectacular staging of the awards; thousands of spectators packed the bleachers to observe a huge orchestra pit of nominees huddled excitedly in front of a titanic stage wrapped by a DJ, vast screens, and caged by a pyrotechnics rig that would put any Champions League final to shame. 

It should be noted that this legion of attendees had been transported to Samarkand by way of the festival booking out an entire express train from Tashkent. Finding the restaurant cars staffed by expert and attentive bartenders at 7:00 am ably demonstrated that Tashkent’s organisers were old hands at connecting with film producers and journalists. 

Uzbek celebrities lined up to present statuettes to giddy young directors and producers, roaring, high-fiving, and hugging in jubilation as the winners were announced to rapturous ovations. 

Credit: Mark Law Hitchings

The most interesting tidbit was teased out after speaking with some of the festival winners afterwards. It emerged that Firdavs Abdukhalikov had been through each of their pitches with a fine-tooth comb, ticking good ideas and striking through bad ones. This is meaningless unless you know that Abdukhalikov is Director-General of the festival, Chairman of the national film agency, UzbekKino, is one of the country’s most successful producers, and owns several television networks in Uzbekistan.

If this is how Uzbekistan lauds its up-and-comers, how it supercharges their ambition and tends to their fragile, youthful creative egos, and if this is the attention paid to micro budget short films by senior figures in the cultural legislature, then the future of Uzbekistan’s film and television industry isn’t just rosy, it’s a glossy vermilion. 

The service was nothing if not exceptional, with every element planned to the most minute detail; and it is this attention to detail that will set Uzbekistan apart when Hollywood comes calling. And for a nation so rich with culture, heritage and ambition, Hollywood will certainly come calling.  

Mark Law Hitchings