Oleg Safaraliyev: "Rasim Ojagov was faithful to Azerbaijani culture, Azerbaijani traditions"

Oleg Safaraliyev: "Rasim Ojagov was faithful to Azerbaijani culture, Azerbaijani traditions"

In December of 2000, President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev signed a decree on establishment of the Day of National Cinema of Azerbaijan, celebrated on August 2. Over the past 10 years, Azerbaijani films, documentaries and cartoons have been shown in more than 50 countries, at more than 200 international film festivals in France, Germany, Great Britain, USA, Canada, Italy, China, Russia, India and other countries. Film director, screenwriter, producer of the "Eurasia Film" company, Oleg Safaraliyev, discussed birth and development of Azerbaijani cinema, which celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.

- This year marks 120th anniversary of Azerbaijani cinema. What main stages of its development would you highlight?

- First years of development of Azerbaijani cinema required participation of the "big brother" - there were few national talents, many pictures were filmed by visiting directors, mostly from Moscow. That's why first Azerbaijani film (not silent) "By the Bluest of Seas" (1936) was filmed by director Boris Barnet. However, it's also important to note that the second director of this film was Samad Mardanov. This is one of the landmark Azerbaijani movies. I would also highlight 1932 movie "26 Baku Commissioners", which was filmed by director Nikolai Shengelaya. As for documentaries, two films that were created by Roman Carmen: "A Tale of the Caspian Oilmen" (prize of the Cannes Film Festival 1954) and "The Caspian Conquerors" (Lenin Prize 1960). 

1945 marks creation of one of the best Azerbaijani musical comedies - "Arshin Mal Alan" - which received the Stalin Prize. This film enjoyed great success in the Soviet Union and for a long time remained a of benchmark for Azerbaijani cinema. All of this happened at the first stage of formation, development of national cinema.

Azerbaijan's cinematography prime began in the 1960s. By this time, highly professional national film-makers had already appeared. There were a lot of young talented cameramen, artists, as well as directors from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. Many pictures of that period were interesting to both film critics and historians of cinematography, and not only in Azerbaijan. Names of such directors as Hasan Seyidbeyli, Rza Tahmasib, Ali-Sattar Atakishiyev, and a little later Rasim Ojagov, whose 85th anniversary we celebrated just recently, were famous at the All-Union level. These directors showed how great they were and became an example for younger cinematographers.

- Rasim Ojagov was a key figure in renaissance of Azerbaijani cinema. What was his contribution to development of Soviet and Azerbaijani cinema?

- From late 1960s to 1980, best examples of Soviet Azerbaijani cinema were filmed at the Azerbaijanfilm studio. This period began with the movie titled "In One Southern City", which was created by Eldar Kuliyev. Rasim Ojagov also worked on this movie. This period ends in 1980 with "Interrogation", directed by Rasim Ojagov. Its script was written by Rustam Ibrahimbekov. This film, which received the State Prize of the USSR, was the only Azerbaijani film that was praised so much during the Soviet era.

Mid-1960s - early 1980s - the most prominent period of the Azerbaijani cinema. During this period Rasim Ojagov created his best films. His style formed completely during that time, just like his preferences, his desire to show moral topics, desire to think about life choices, purpose of life. "Interrogation" was a social films, which raised very topical issues.

- How can you describe his works' style?

- Rasim Ojagov really loved and knew a lot about Italian neorealism. Perhaps he got that trait when he began to study at the camera department of the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, when he gained access to those works. As a student he saw the best examples of Italian neorealism. Just like it happens with any creative person, they influenced him. I remember when I was studying in Moscow during the "Perestroika", old films appeared on various media, cassettes, disks. Ojagov always asked me to bring films of Italian directors to Baku. He collected them, loved to quote them. It was one of his favorite topics - Italian neorealism.

Rasim Ojagov paid a lot of attention to acting, to actors' understanding of tasks that go far beyond any particular episode or a story that is told in the film. He liked to expess excessive demands to actors and always looked for complete immersion in the role. It's no wonder that he needed great masters to complete all those tasks.

Occasionally, Ojagov was even criticized for his love of Russian actors, but he always tried to get famous, best actors of that time to appear in his films. Rodion Nahapetov played one of his best roles in in "Behind the Closed Door". Alexander Kalyagin had one of his iconic roles in "Interrogation". He also played major role in Rasim Ojagov's other film  - "Another Life". These actors played our countrymen, Azerbaijanis, and it didn't bother anyone, because they played so well.

Professionalism of both Ojagov and actors helped them to completely immerse in the story they were telling. They didn't stand out compared to those Azerbaijani actors that performed with them.

By this time, Azerbaijani acting school became one of the most professional ones. Some Azerbaijani actors began to perform in Russian films. There was an active exchange of creative resources.

Seven out of more than a dozen movies filmed by Rasim Ojagov were created based on scenarios of Rustam Ibragimbekov. This creative tandem of sceenwriter and director was one of the most productive ones. Each of their films, like “Interrogation” and “Behind the Closed Door”, immediately became a phenomenon in the Soviet cinematic sphere. All these films participated in numerous festivals. They attracted attention of not only audience members, but also film critics, people who studied and developed Azerbaijani cinema.