Friday, April 1, 2011

Turkmenistan Filmmaker Has Big Plans

Turkmeni filmmaker Vilmos Pahlavi
Ask most people where Turkmenistan is and you'll likely be met with a shrug and a stare. Despite sharing a southern border with Iran and Afghanistan, the former Soviet bloc republic has managed to keep a surprisingly low profile on the world stage. But if few westerners know anything about Turkmenistan, fewer still are aware that the country has a burgeoning film industry. And if you've never heard of Hammamet's Bees or The Chicken Dogs of Hodzambas, for example, that's only because few people outside Turkmenistan have ever had the chance to see a Turkmeni film.

That's all about to change if Vilmos Pahlavi has his way. A Turkmeni filmmaker with over a dozen films to his credit, Pahlavi is also the powerful chairman of Turkmenistan's Ministry of Film and Culture, and is, by his own account, accustomed to getting his way.

"When I came for take this job," Pahlavi said in a recent phone interview,
"Turkmenistan film all about dogs, and the poor peoples. Very no good. Why you want to watch? I want to see fast car, and beautiful womans and--how you say?--inflammations. Like explosion."

"First day, I go to office and watch all films for Turkmenistan. From beginning. I watch films for dog, old womans, childrens, poor peoples and this communists. It make me crazy. I want to crush. So I tell them no more dog, no old womans.

"We have these film company, Aschchabad Kinofabrika. Very old. And they no like. So I tell to them you have to be doing this or I will crush."

Pahlavi, who claims to be the illegitimate son of the former Shah of Iran and a Czech actress, grew up shuttling back and forth between Prague and Istanbul. Ten years ago he moved to Balkanabat, Turkmenistan, where he leveraged his popularity as an action filmmaker into his current position as the country's film czar. Pahlavi is a colorful but controversial figure, as famous for his flashy cars and flamboyant wardrobe as his legendary temper and lack of subtlety.

Eduard Saparov, a Turkmeni filmmaker currently living exile, has called Pahlavi a "sadist" for his alleged heavy-handed treatment of film crews, such as having a lighting technician jailed for taking too long to light a scene. According to Saparov, however, Pahlavi's harshest treatment was typically reserved for writers, a number of whom claim to have been caned as punishment for being an "unnecessary irritant."

Pahlavi shrugs off the accusations.

"You have opposition, you have to crush."

In spite of the criticisms, Pahlavi's outlook for the future of the Turkmeni film industry is bright. In fact, he plans to give Hollywood a run for its money.

"We're going to kick for them in balls," says Pahlavi. "I have secret working on project now. I telling you, these Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas, I going to put giant can of ass on them."

Curiously, Pahlavi's first assault on Hollywood will involve a 1982 Turkish film entitled Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, or The Man Who Saves the World, a film that Pahlavi claims he worked on but never received credit for. The film is unofficially known as the "Turkish Star Wars" due to its use of uncredited footage and music borrowed from George Lucas's sci-fi classic, Star Wars.

"That was first film for me," Pahlavi says emphatically. "I was director. We make film in Turkey for 1982 during time of fight with government. My father was Shah of Iran. Everybody hate, so I have to be careful. For politic reason I could no use name. So my friend Çetin Inanç, we put for his name in credit, but really was my film.

"Then he change everything. Make different. Take out girls. So I going to put film back way it was, only better. Make Director's cut. Many more womans and explosions."

Pahlavi is currently working on a promotional trailer for the re-release, after which he intends to post three different versions of the film on a special Youtube channel, one with English subtitles, another with English-dubbed dialogue, and a third version with an audio commentary by Pahlavi.

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