Between Heaven and Earth
Photos and Video
Uzbekistan, which lies at the heart of the Eurasian continent where the Silk Road once connected China to Europe, has a deeply rooted circus tradition that has thrived from long before the Soviet era to the present. Childhood friends Achat and Tarsun are part of that longstanding tradition. Now in their late 50's, the pair joined the circus as youngsters after a tightrope walker came to their village. Between Heaven and Earth is a beautifully crafted film about the balancing act required of its two subjects under the Uzbek dictatorship that came to power after the fall of the Soviet Union. Once both members of the now outlawed democratic opposition party, ERK, the two friends no longer agree on political issues. Tarsun has left the party, preferring to protect and dedicate himself to his family after a traumatic loss, while Achat puts all his energy into activism despite his family's fears that he will be arrested again. The two men clearly still love and respect each other, but their differing responses to the pressures that the dictatorship exerts on them causes a seemingly unbridgeable rift. Set against the stunning Uzbek landscape, the film weaves mesmerizing imagery from the men's circus performances with interviews and candid moments from their personal lives, showing how the circus, which lies at the root of their deep friendship, is also the forum in which they pursue their divergent endeavors. An enlightening look at a part of the world virtually unknown to Western audiences, this film is also a stirring exploration of the universal difficulty of balancing convictions, commitments, ambitions and friendships.
Director's Statement Collapse
After I read the book Jihad by Ahmed Rashid, professor at Yale University, I became interested in the situation in Central Asia. In that region, the country that is now Uzbekistan has been ruled by the Soviet Republic for over seventy years. A year after Islam Karimov became president of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, he declared the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991. To the Uzbeks, the state of independence felt like a liberation and the chance of a better life and improved possibilities. Soviet rule had dictated closed borders, mandatory cultivation of cotton and relocation of ethnic groups. The population had to practice their religion covertly. From 1992 onwards, things were bound to change. But Karimov, the democratically elected president, had other plans. Although the population was now free to practice their religion, economically the state was geared only towards increasing the wealth of the president and his entourage. No criticism was allowed. Opposition parties and free press were abandoned a year later. The population found itself set back to square one: those in power today were no better than their predecessors, only this time they called themselves democrats. I wondered what effect these developments had had on the population and how they saw their future. I decided to explore the possibilities to make a documentary film about a few people whose fortunes could be typical for all Uzbeks. Masha Novikova, a Russian film maker who has been living in Amsterdam for almost a decade, and I got into the subject. Masha had also never been to Uzbekistan, but was keen to go and research the possibilities for a film. Oleg Klimov, a Russian photographer and a good friend of hers, accompanied her on this journey. Together they made first contact with our main characters in the film: two circus artists. Eventually, these two friends and their personal histories, to us are symbolic for the dilemmas that Uzbeks have to live with permanently.
Film Information Collapse
[BETWE] | 2006 | 70 | Documentary Feature
Foreign Title: (Tussen Hemel en Aarde)
Language: Russian, Uzbek
Premiere: North American
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About the Director(s)Collapse
Born in Rotterdam in 1956, FRANK VAN DEN ENGEL began his career as managing director of Strengholt Televideo. In 1997, he founded the independent documentary production company Zeppers Film and TV, where he has produced over 45 films for theater and TV including Dance Grozny, Dance (Tribeca Film Festival 2003) and Voices of BAM (Tribeca Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Documentary, 2006). He currently splits his time between developing his own film projects and mentoring young directors. His debut film, Normaal - I Always Come Back, was released in 2002.
MASHA NOVIKOVA was born in Moscow in 1956. In 2002 she worked on Dance Grozny, Dance with Jos de Putter, and has just completed a film with him on Aleksandr Litvinenko. Her debut film, Fallen Angel (2005) is about the sex trafficking of Eastern European women.