Documentary cinema

Azerbaijan, Russia

Genre: Documentary film
Director: Rodion Ismailov

Duration: 52 minutes
Content: Educational

This is a film about Azerbaijani shepherds’ life. It takes them six days to herd a stock from one place to another in search for grasslands. This is a dangerous and exhausting road.

Perpetual Cycle

Nomads dоcumentary film by DC Film Studio, a co-production of Azerbaijani and Russian cinematographers

February 21, 2010
By Farkhad Agamaliyev

Eagles do not fly in flocks. These always lonely sky pilgrims appear to accompany stocks led by shepherds for painstakingly long and hard days from gyshlas (winter camps) to yailas (summer pastures). It is pictured in Кöç (Nomads), a documentary film directed by Rodion Ismailov.

Above, there is an infinite height of the sun-burnt pale blue sky, and there is an eagle, a ferocious master of the skies, flying on that height. Below, there is a brown-reddish ground, scorched by heat, and on that land, shepherds, walking and on horsebacks, together with their sheep-guarding dogs, are herding a large stock. This is the Azerbaijani land and the shepherds are Azerbaijanis. This nomadic endeavour begins somewhere in Tauz-Kazakh region of Dzheyran-chel (a steppe of dzheyrans) lowlands. Rodion Ismailov himself comes from these places. He spent his child and teen years seeing these steppes, herds, shepherds and guarding dogs. He understands the essence of this nomadic life, its explicit pragmatism and implicit philosophy. There is a notion of “non-sense infinity” in the science of this life. It is a very pessimistic notion in as much as, in its roots, it denies any progress and development. It reaffirms that there is nothing new in history. Everything that comes in the future had already taken place before. In other words, all life is limited by the non-sense motion from A to B, from birth to death. This is a non-drama idea of the film.

Friedrich Nietzsche introduced a notion of perpetual cycle in philosophy. It acknowledges the repetition of the past, too, but it has a deeper sense. His philosophy suggests that a new cycle has the energy of propagation, that it gives an energy pulse with a new birth, ensures the continuation of life which protects everything from dying on the last number of the counter. Contrary to the non-sense infinity, the perpetual cycle does not stop in the nonsensical dead end, but it opens a sensible perpetuity to the human mind.

Nomads is a visible embodiment of this concept.

Elchin Abdullayev’s fine-focused camera, delivering colours of that life and, even more so, smells of that life to viewers, discovers the inner tension of what looks to be a monotonous motion on surface. A big turtle appearing in one screenshot is understood as a symbol of slowness in the context of the above said. A blunt-nosed viper, which bit a sheep and the sheep would have to be knifed down to stop its agony, is understood as a counterpoint to the seemingly quiet routine: dangers are waiting for shepherds and their stock down the road.

Their way ahead is long, hard and slow. For countless times it is being repeated by brothers, fathers and grandfathers of these tired and silent men. The film is shot in a real pace of their nomadic life. Silence in the film is not a technical absence of the sound track as is sometimes done in other documentaries for a stronger effect. The film characters simply do not talk. Everything in their work is arranged and prescheduled by the established inviolable techniques. No words are needed.

Fyodor Tyutchev wrote:

The nature is not what you believe,

Not a sculpture, not a face with no expression

It has the soul and the freedom,

It has love and it speaks.

This language is well understood by Nomads cinematographers. The barking of dogs, the burning wood crackle, the frying kebabs and boiling water in a kettle black with soot, a cell phone conversation of a shepherd, a bit unusual in that environment, a shepherd’s helper’s song about his mother, where words “nenem, nenem” are refrained, the noise of a downpour striking the raincoat fibre, the scene of feeding a calf too young to be able to suck an udder: all these are universal sounds and manifestations of the reality where the characters live and act. They create harmony with sounds of duduk and ud, making a gorgeous sound track.

Their life is dedicated to the road, to the perpetual cycle of movement from the origins forward and then, in reverse, to the origins. In Nomads, it is the road to Koshgar-dag mountain, at the foot of which lies a yaila, a pasture, the point of their long-awaited destination. Here their wives and daughters are waiting for them. Here they will have their cold spring water to wash faces and to have their deserved rest.

What about the eagle? Why did it accompany the stock on its entire way, why did a shepherd-boy look for the eagle in the sky, shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand? The eagle followed the herd because that same boy fed the eagle. Thus, every time, shepherds cut a dinner sheep, the eagle knew that it would have its share of meat. The bird of prey in the film is one of the cinematographers’ lucky strike. It is a manifestation of unity of the world, of people and nature. And, it is a dramatic thread binding all film scenes together.

Nomads is not a mainstream product. It is rather an art house work with a pronounced epic quality. I am convinced that his pure voice is yet to be heard louder. This film is destined to have a future with due acknowledgments and high appraisals by those who appreciate a true documentary.


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