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AYFF Interviews: Leyli Gafarova

In the months leading up to our 2017 film festival we're spending time highlighting some of Azerbaijan's young filmmaking talent. Today we spoke with Leyli Gafarova, a 26 year old filmmaker from Baku and one of the founders of Salaam Cinema, a new independent theater in Azerbaijan's capital. We started our conversation talking about her filmmaking influences, and the advice for new film makers.


Have you studied film? If yes, where did you study and do you think it changed your approach to filmmaking?

- I studied at Royal Institute for Theatre Cinema and Sound in Brussels. Many filmmakers say: first thing you do when you go to a film school, is quit the film school. At some point I could agree – because some film schools can form you.

And it’s not like if you study at film school you would learn how to make a great film. Normally they teach you some traditional ways about the medium, but you won’t get any recipe for a great film. What you do get is a platform where you can play around and test the medium, experiment, shoot some awful movies and learn from your mistakes.

Scene from Leyli's film

What was your first film, and what inspired you to make it?

- The very first short movie I ever made, was called ‘For No Matter What’. In my early works I always found an inspiration from my personal experiences. The questions I had about life and situations that where interesting to me. It was a very simple movie, about two people and the interaction between them.

Scene from Leyli's film

What are three films that had an impact your life?

- La vita è bella directed by Roberto Benigni. I was around the age of 8 or something, when I saw this movie for the first time. My mom was watching it on tv, I actually had to sleep already, I was trying to sneak in and watch the movie anyway.

Trailer for La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful)

Since Otar Left directed by Bertuccelli. Not a classic, but still a treasure. A movie about a very sincere love between three generation of women.

Close up directed by Kiarostami

This movie had a major impact on my life. This movie taught me a lot about the limitless possibilities of cinema.

Final scene from Close-up

How do you inspire yourself? How do you develop your film ideas?

- Usually I find inspiration in conflicts of everyday life, interaction between people, those things that are unsaid – I find it all quite inspiring. When I’m working on my idea, it takes a long time where I create a puzzle and it’s a process – but through time things are coming to thier right places.

What is a time you faced failure while working on a film, and how did you deal with it?

- I think you face failure all the time. Your movie will never be completely the way you imagine it from the beginning. Because it’s a process and it changes. You also change through this process. You face failures and it’s a good thing. You learn from your mistakes, and dealing with them brings you sometimes to very creative solutions.

What genres do you like to film and why?

- I’m mainly interested in author cinema. For me cinema is a great art and it’s a way to express myself, to ask questions about the world I live in and maybe it is also a form of therapy.

What makes a good film?

- There are different genres and reasons why some movies are made. But personally those that make me feel something during the movie have absolutely reached a major goal.

How does the film crew work (actors, directors, editors etc) work together? How do they influence each other?

- Although it’s usually the director who takes all the credits or the critics of the movie, cinema is usually not a one man job! Every department carries the huge responsibility and can be seen as art itself. First things first I think every member should have this amazing love and engagement towards cinema, only from there you can obtain a unique result.

What can films teach us about the world? How can they change it?

- Wow, this a subject where I can probably go on for hours…

Cinema is a desire to understand the human condition.

It mirrors our experiences of modern life, it can teach us, let us escape, gives hope, allow us to experience and develop critical thinking. So many possibilities.

Where do you see Azerbaijan's film scene going?

- Azerbaijan’s film scene depends right now on it young and fresh voices. Unfortunately till now we haven’t been able to speak about Azerbaijani cinema, because this as a content has actually not really existed yet. So it depends now on this new generation of young filmmakers searching for a new language.

What advice would you offer to beginning filmmakers?

- Don’t search too far for inspiration. The best thing is to start to talk about things that you already know and have felt already. Start with personal works, with personal questions - those are always the honest ones.


What is Salaam Cinema and when did you start the project?

- Salaam Cinema (Baku) aims to be a cinephile’s alternative guide, regularly showing author, avant-garde and underground film. We started this project only recently and its taking it’s baby steps.

Why is Salaam Cinema important? What does it do that other theaters in Baku do not?

- Bakuvian cinemas programs are dominated with blockbusters, Turkish comedies etc. There is no interest in showing author cinema, amazing classics or even Palm d’or selections. This is an amazing deficit in this country.

First of all Salaam Cinema gives back the architectural building – an old cinema theater - it’s own original function. The second criteria of Salaam Cinema is to show quality movies. What makes Salaam Cinema also different from other film theaters is the fact that we provide subtitles in two languages first and the main language is Azerbaijani, second it can be English or Russian. We provide both languages not to isolate anyone.

What kind of films do you show and why?

- We screen edgy Art-house, creative, socially relevant, avant-garde and underground films, but also quality Oscar, Palme d’Or, crossover movies, documentaries and quality local productions. Movies that the young generation didn’t have the chance to see on the big screen. Salaam Cinema also supports young upcoming directors.

What is your favorite film you've shown so far?

- Salaam Cinema is still taking it’s baby steps. Our first screening was a research project of multimedia artist Merzedes Sturm-Lie on the first Azeri movie “In the Kingdom of Oil and Millions” (1916) which vanished during the Bolshevik occupation in 1920 and the remake called Golden Abyss (1980) directed by Fikret Aliyev.

What plans do you have for the future of the project?

- For now we will continue screening movies, but for the future we hope to become an independent film theater, with exhibitions, festivals and educational programs.

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