Ru Hasanov on ‘The Island Inside’ and Azerbaijan’s Rising Film Biz

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Seymour Tahirbekov is a reluctant chess star, a younger grandmaster from Azerbaijan whose life is rigidly managed by his emotionally poisonous father and coach. On the eve of his showdown with the defending world champion, Seymour’s nerves started to fray, and he escapes to a distant island populated by wild horses and a solitary previous man. Away from the limelight, and with a newfound sense of freedom, he begins to search out peace of thoughts. However with the world championship days away, it’s only a matter of time earlier than the nationwide manhunt for the AWOL grandmaster closes in.

“The Island Inside” is written and directed by Ru Hasanov, who co-directed the 2013 Locarno participant “Chameleon.” Produced by his Baku-based outfit Coyote Cinema and co-produced by France’s Arizona Productions, the movie world premiered in competitors on the Sarajevo Film Pageant.

Born and raised in Baku, Hasanov studied within the U.S. earlier than working for Vice Media in New York. His peripatetic profession took him to Lithuania and Russia earlier than he returned to Azerbaijan in 2017 to make “The Island Inside,” calling it time “to assist make issues proper right here within the movie trade.” Hasanov spoke to Selection concerning the parallels between chess and filmmaking, the excessive price of success, and the latest emergence of the Azerbaijani movie trade.

“The Island Inside” is predicated on a real story. How did you come throughout that story, and how carefully did you follow it along with your script?
Azerbaijan pays shut consideration to chess. We now have two or three grandmasters; one of many chess gamers was quantity two on the planet not too long ago. We now have very severe chess gamers, and I figured it’s actually unusual that that is one thing that we may be and needs to be happy with, however there hasn’t been a single movie a couple of chess participant. That’s what gave me the preliminary spark.

Then my dad confirmed me an article about this island which was an ex-Soviet farm. There was, up till not too long ago, this man who lived right here in absolute solitude, a Russian man by the identify of Vitaliy Pronin. He died this 12 months, only a few months in the past. I used to be fascinated by the concept of somebody dwelling on an island with distinctive flora and fauna. There are flamingos, and there are horses that drink water from the Caspian Sea. I used to be blown away by that. These two concepts clashed, and that’s how I got here up with the concept of this chess participant who runs off to that island.

Are you a chess participant your self?
Sure. I’m a chess fanatic. I really like chess, and I’ve lots of buddies who take pleasure in taking part in chess. I’m far, removed from being skilled, however I’m an enormous chess fanatic.

Are there similarities between chess and filmmaking? Advanced problem-solving? A capability to suppose a couple of steps forward?
Nicely, in a method or one other, after all. I believe each cinema and chess, they in a method or one other replicate life. You need to be each tactically and strategically considering. In fact, it’s a matter of problem-solving as properly, particularly once you’re making a low-budget or no-budget movie, you need to correctly take into consideration the methods of constructing it occur. Sure, I believe there are similarities, however for me at the very least, I believe that moviemaking is far more just like chess. Once we’re speaking about movie, it’s an artwork kind that is perhaps totally different than chess. Though I imagine after the fourth transfer in chess, there are over a billion potentialities. I suppose it’s about the identical with movie.

Once we’re launched to him, Seymour appears to be a passive agent in his personal life: he’s on the mercy of his father and coach, native politicians, and the calls for which can be continuously being positioned on him as a competitor. He’s spent his entire life confined inside a system designed to make him the grandmaster he’s grow to be. Do you suppose it’s attainable for somebody in his place to discover a diploma of autonomy inside that system—to be one thing apart from the chess machine we see him to be?
I believe it’s not nearly chess. There are such a lot of examples, even movies, a couple of very related downside—“Whiplash,” or with “Black Swan.” Once you’re doing one thing professionally, I believe you mechanically signal a take care of the satan. You make investments a lot of your life into [it]. Clearly, the extra time you spend on one thing, the higher you grow to be at it. For instance, I used to be doing thorough analysis, and the native Azerbaijani chess masters, even after they’re speaking to you, they’re nonetheless taking part in chess on their smartphone. It’s one thing that takes up actually all your time. You’re obsessive about no matter you’re doing.

For me, personally, it’s probably not the matter of [Seymour] not having the time to do one thing. It’s extra concerning the void that he feels in himself. It’s a matter of private freedom that he doesn’t actually have time to discover and kind as a person. There’s this factor I heard somebody saying as soon as, that boys want their father’s permission to grow to be males. Perhaps the issue is that he didn’t actually have the time to get his father’s permission to grow to be a person.

Nicely, it’s debatable whether or not the actual father he has would even enable him to do this. There’s a scene within the movie the place Seymour’s father tells him a narrative concerning the trials his grandfather endured, when he was arrested and tortured by the KGB. And his recommendation to his son is just, “Man up.” Going again to your level, possibly it’s not nearly his father giving him the time and house to grow to be a person; it’s a query of what sort of man his father expects him to grow to be. Do you discover this concept of masculinity is especially problematic in Azerbaijan?
Not simply Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a really unusual place. It’s a really fascinating place. It’s a secular democracy. If we return into historical past, for instance, girls bought their proper to vote in 1918. We now have this custom of secularism and modernity. However on the identical time, there’s a really particular mentality within the Caucasus. In the event you have a look at the tradition of the Caucasus—whether or not that be Dagestan or Chechnya or Georgia —there may be this expectation of a person being a person that goes approach again into historical past. There are numerous influences. However sure, there may be undoubtedly an expectation concerning the function of what a person is. I believe this movie was form of an exploration of the function that males have on this society. And on a bigger scale as properly, I believe it’s time to correctly replicate upon this problem of what’s being a person.

Seymour struggles early within the movie with a want to be free, at the same time as he admits: “I can’t even clarify it to myself.” It’s form of a paradox, isn’t it? He’s so trapped he doesn’t even know what freedom means.
Precisely. Have a look at it this manner. He’s undoubtedly an mental. He’s the quantity two chess participant on the planet. You possibly can’t say that he’s intellectually inferior to anybody round him. However that’s the form of factor that I witnessed quite a few occasions with my buddies and my friends. I’ve lots of buddies who’re musicians, world-renowned musicians, who play, for instance, the piano continuous, 24/7. And whereas we had been taking part in soccer within the neighborhood, they had been caught at house, practising. Clearly, you understand that there’s something greater than this, however you don’t know what it’s. Since you had been by no means uncovered to that. In fact, [Seymour] realizes that there’s this entire different world outdoors of the world that he lives in, which is kind of restricted. And he’s properly conscious of that. However he by no means had an opportunity to discover it.

There’s a tone of nationalism that recurs all through the movie, this very heightened—and inflated—pleasure that individuals soak up Seymour’s accomplishments as in some way contributing to the nation’s glory. You current it in a really droll, tongue-in-cheek approach, however I’m wondering what it means so that you can be a younger, Azerbaijani filmmaker? How would you like your movie to be obtained as a snapshot—nonetheless private and idiosyncratic—of your nation as we speak?
It’s a really sophisticated query and problem, as a result of I believe that it’s extraordinarily essential for a younger nation to take pleasure in varied achievements. You possibly can witness that through the World Cup, or another athletic occasion, when representatives of a sure group take pleasure in belonging to that group. In that sense, it’s no totally different with cinema. For instance, when Hilal Baydarov bought into Venice fundamental competitors [with “In Between Dying”], it was one thing that each one of us, no matter whether or not we’re buddies or colleagues or like one another’s movies or not, everybody was united as a result of we took pleasure that considered one of us bought into such a distinguished movie pageant for the primary time in our historical past. Clearly it’s an enormous achievement. I don’t see an issue in taking pleasure in one thing.

Nonetheless, I do suppose that after we’re speaking about filmmaking, and the movie trade in Azerbaijan, there’s a technology of younger filmmakers which has been forming all through the previous decade. And I believe that from 12 months to 12 months, we’re making our voices heard. Final 12 months, for instance, considered one of our colleagues received the Fipresci prize in Rotterdam, and this 12 months we now have a movie in Cannes and a movie in Venice. We’re in Sarajevo. So I believe the tendency of this group of individuals, or this wave, who’re making their voices heard internationally, this can be a superb begin and a really optimistic factor that each one of us share and take pleasure in. Who may ask for something extra?

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