It is a very rich film that Czech director and journalist Kudrna has made from post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. From the gold mine Kumtor, co-owned by a Canadian company. The creative documentary elements are obvious. Cinematography is stunning – there is a standpoint already here: If you want to make a film about man destroying nature, you have to make it magic and beautiful to watch. It is, indeed. Characters match each other perfectly – the tractor driver/obedient worker Nurbek, the local boss/mediator to the Canadian management Kerim and the doctor/social activist Baktigul. Around them there are several important side characters, including the Canadian director of the gold mine. And the narrative line is clear – slowly Kudrna, showing his journalistic skills, gets more and more into the core of the story. By insisting and by being there for a long time, doors are opened and he can go deeper and deeper.
In the beginning he is not allowed to film at the mine. Then he is being ”given” Nurbek as the super worker, you may follow him, he was told. He does and is able to open up Nurbek, to make him a human being and not just a tool for propaganda. This happens very much by including Nurbek’s wife, who also works at the mine and who is vey much in doubt about their participation in
the film. Her point is that if they say something positive about the mine, they will be met with criticism from their neighbours (who are already jealous because of their relative wealthiness), and if they something bad, they will get problems with their superiors at the mine. The theme of what to say and what not grows gradually in the film.
Kerim was already at Soviet time a leader. He is energetic and does not refrain from involving himself in heavy discussions on camera, especially with the doctor Baktigul, who is the link to the fatal cyanide accidents that happened at the mine more than 10 years ago – as well as she is the one, who fights for better social conditions for her fellow citizens in the town. She points at the responsibility of Kumtor in this respect. AND they do help, the Canadians, to a certain degree, and make a lot of publicity out of this when for instance Kerim hands out gifts and money to WW2war veterans!
Kudrna tells his story in an unusual way. He does not use a spoken commentary. In the beginning I was doubtful if it would work with the first person texts on black, but you get used to it as the film develops and are happy that images and action can unfold without a voice-off. And you are never uncertain about the open-minded, respectful and yet critical position of the director – you hear him once in a while put questions, and you hear the characters address him. At the end of the film he turns brilliantly to Kerim and Nurbek and make them dialogue about if it would have consequences if Nurbek were critical to Kumtor. (I am very curious to hear IF the film has had any consequences for any of the three main characters?)
The bigger political and business frame is also in the film. The president of the republic, Bakiyev (who is now ex-p after the riots in the country in April this year) is in the film as well as the president of the Canadian company, who agrees to an interview, is sympathetic but also very careful about what he says. There is money in all that glitters and you don’t want to lose the contract with the government in a post-soviet country that in many ways still act as was it a Soviet republic.
A character driven, informative and creative investigation into the conflict between man and nature, between business and environment, between profit and social security, told through engaging characters, who live in a new system, or do they? Yes, rich it is, this film, rasing questions, giving no easy answers, a real documentary!
Czech Republic, 2010, 99 mins.