AN INTERVIEW WITH ELYA GILMAN, DIRECTOR OF "SUNFLOWER"
Multi-Award Winner - May 2021 Edition
. Best Drama Film
. Best Foreign Film
. Best Female Director Feature Film
. Best First Time Filmmaker Feature
. Best Young Actor in a Feature Film
Gilman Elya was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on June 14th, 1975.
. 2007 - 2010: Moscow, Russia, VGIK (All-Russian State University of Cinematography n.a. S.A. Gerasimov).
. 2003 - 2005: Almaty, Kazakhstan, Kazakh National Academy of Arts n.a. T. Zhurgenov, «Cinema and TV », graduated with distinction.
2015 - recent: Stalker Cinema School and Production, General manager
2005 - 2019: «Kazakhfilm» Studio
• “Imago” 16 minutes (2004), Director, Script
• “Shaken Stars” - Film Festival, Almaty (2004)
Youth Film Festival of the countries of the Central Asia
• “Creative flight”, Tashkent (2004), Award for «Best Camerawork»
• “Beginning”, St.-Petersburg Film Festival (2005), Special Award from the Jury
• “Dog’s Life” 7 minutes, 35мм (2004), one of directors
Joint Kazakh-German project under the guidance of producer Fait Helmer
(Berlin Film Academy)
Award from a film festival in Wiesbaden, Germany
Award on a film festival of Children's films “Gold sparrow“ in Gera, Germany
• “Gust of Wind”, 65 minutes (2006), co-author of the script and director
Youth Film Festival of the countries of the Central Asia “Creative flight”, Tashkent (2004)
Film Festival "Kinoshock", Anapa (2005)
• “Little Angel” (2006), 7-serial feature film, one of the directors
Production: JSC “Kazakhfilm”
• 10 International Teleforum, Moscow (2008), Grand Prix
Film Festival "Kinoshock", Anapa (2007), «Best Actor» Award
• “Ikar”, 12 minutes, 35 mm (2008), Scriptwriter, Director
Russia-Kazakhstan (VGIK - Bolashak)
• “Saint Anna” Film Festival, Moscow
«Mosfilm" Best Script Award and Special Award from the Jury
• “Troubadour”, 35 mm (2010), a lyrical comedy, Script, Director
GilmanFilm Production and JSC "Kazakhfilm"
• “My Heart Astana” (2012), The Kazakh-Russian comedy-drama anthology consists of short films by Yegor Konchalovsky, novel "Surprise", Director
• “25 kilometer” (2013), Script, Director, "Schoolmates", TV Series, Mediazavod Production and Khabar Agency
• “Deadly Kiss” (2013), Script, Director, "Schoolmates" TV Series, Mediazavod Production and Khabar Agency
• “Milk, Sour cream, Curd” (2013)", Script, Director, "Schoolmates" TV Series, Mediazavod Production and Khabar Agency
• “Bank Number One” (2015), Script, Director, 24 TV Series
• “Sunflower” (2019), Director, JSC "Kazakhfilm" and Stalker Cinema Production
Hello Elya Gilman! How did you come across Rassul Shybyntai's script and decide to direct the film?
I met Rassul a while ago while cooperating on other projects, so he was my go to person to formulate a script for an idea I had for a film. However, we had to reformulate the script around 16 times before we came up with the final version that we used for the movie.
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking would be your life and your living?
During the 90s when the Soviet Union fell apart, I had a close friend whose family was documentary filmmakers with projects about the wildlife in Kazakhstan. One time during their documentary filming, this family stumbled upon a hurt leopard kitten which they raised as a cat at home.
When it grew up, the government took the leopard away and it died from loneliness in the zoo. As an alternative reality, their father released a movie called “The Leopard Returns” depicting an alternative reality where the family could interact with their old friend in a new way.
During a time when people were uncertain about the future and needed an opportunity to escape, I felt like I had both the capabilities and messages I needed to share with the people I had around.
The Cast in "SUNFLOWER" is exceptional. Directors often say that most of directing is actually casting. How did you choose your Actors?
The casting took a very long time, almost 4 months. The boy that was selected for the main role was a different actor at first, but when we were selecting the locations for the movie I accidentally saw Rashid standing not far from the place we were considering, and I knew he was the right actor for the role of "Amir". After try-outs we changed our confirmed actor to Rashid. "Father", Erkebulan Dayirov, is a talented actor from Kazakhstan who perfectly depicted the depth of the role and its correlating mentality that shaped the character in the movie.
For the role of Amir's mom, the casting looked for actors all across Kazakhstan and Russia but nobody would seem to be the right fit with Rashid. We then switched over to look for an actress in the European Union and found Sloboda in Serbia, who not only agreed but also learned Russian specifically for this role. We then found a perfect actor for the teacher in Russia, the one and only Kirill, who perfectly rounded up the dimensions of character dynamics in the movie.
All of the wonderful actors in the movie not only did a magnificent job living the characters but also brought out emotional connections from each other that together formed a masterpiece that shaped the movie.
"SUNFLOWER" is a remarkable illustration of how the message of Art can be universal. Although the story you tell takes place in a country the culture and landscapes of which can seem very remote to some, audiences and Festival Juries worldwide have been very receptive to it. What would you have to say about this aspect of filmmaking?
Certain messages are universal, like the core message of "Sunflower" about the importance of being able to connect with each other. The themes of pressure, loneliness, escapism, and uncertainty are overlapping across landscapes and culture making the messages of the movie universally relevant. The empathy that many people lack as they are from within society is not a remote subject, hence, talking about it finds a way across cultural boundaries.
What role have film festivals played in your career so far, and do you think that they are a necessary element in the life of a film?
One of the first film made, "Ikar", was inspired by the greek myth of Icarus and my daughter who was jumping on the bed along with the feathers that came out of the pillow she destroyed. This movie was about having a dream and manifesting the reality one desired despite the enforced pressure of the world. This short film won the festivals it was made for and acknowledged my work and ideas within the film community in Russia. It showed me that the messages I portray in my films connect with people and that there are people out there that are emotionally disconnected from many aspects of their life that they can relive through my moves.
Are you on social media, do you use it in your work? Why or why not?
Despite the pressure I receive from my daughters to develop an online presence, I am well aware that any media is an extension with potentially significant reaches and implications. I feel like social media strips people of their humanity and encourages them to develop marketable appealing alter personalities.
Similarly to Nikolai Gogol’s Portrait, I prioritize quality and soul within my projects rather than popular approval. That is why I send my films to festivals, I want my movies to be enjoyed as exclusive works of art melting in the mouths (or I guess eyes) of my audience, rather than be viewed as a part of a personality cult driven by social media presence.
In your view, do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that being a creative person requires that you give back, or tell a particular story, or not do something else?
I think as humans we are defined by the mediums that surround us, and as someone who has access to such mediums I feel like I have a responsibility to the people in my circle to promote things that our society should restructure.
I feel lucky that I had the opportunities to relay the messages of empathy and connection to a community that raised me with a lack of such values. Now that I got mediums to project messages to the community, I feel like telling the narratives connecting people together is my way of giving back to the community.