37 Uses for a Dead Sheep
Photos and Video
Although this ethnographic documentary about the migratory struggles of the Pamir Kirghiz people does briefly rattle off 37 uses for a dead sheep, the playful title deliberately underscores the serious geopolitical overtones of the film. Director Ben Hopkins tastefully blends reenactments shot on 16 mm and Super-8 film with interviews to tell the history of how these stoic people abandoned their seminomadic existence in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan for a comfortable life in a Turkish town filled with fixed stone houses. In most cases, Communist oppression of both the Soviet and Maoist varieties was what forced the Pamir Kirghiz to migrate five times: first from Central Asia to China, then from Tajikistan to Pakistan, and finally to Turkey. In this collaboration between subject and filmmaker, Hopkins uses Kirghiz people, several of whom endured all five migrations, to reenact the dramatic journey from the freezing Tajikistan mountains-with altitudes of 4,000 meters-to Pakistan. After four years they were finally offered land in Ulupamir in eastern Turkey thanks to Rahman Qul, their last leader, whose efforts to keep his community together would have made even Moses proud. Now comfortably settled, the tribe's scars seem to be healing nicely, perhaps too nicely. For the most part, the tribe's younger generation is ready to move on and forget their heritage. One white-bearded man comments that all the young people do is sit in front of the television and go to Istanbul. But, as he shrugs and says, "that doesn't bother me." And given the many physical and emotional hardships that his generation had to endure, it is easy to see why it wouldn't.
Director's Statement Collapse
In the ethnographic documentaries of my childhood, a Western film crew would go somewhere exotic and film the people there, while a sonorous voice-over would explain the images to the audience at home: "This is Burku the shepherd...every morning Burku takes his sheep up onto the mountain…" It was very much a case of "us and them": the Western film crew observing, and the "exotic" people going about their daily lives. While working on my last documentary, Footprints in Afghanistan, I came across the Pamir Kirghiz' history and was struck instantly by how rich it was and how clearly it depicted the effect of stronger geopolitical forces on one small community. As soon as I met the Kirghiz, I immediately knew that, as it was their story, they should be directly involved in telling it. It couldn't be another case of "us and them." So I proposed that I would make the film with Ekber Kutlu, a sculptor and intellectual from the Kirghiz community, and that we would work together to reconstruct the past. In the process, we would hold interviews and report on the Kirghiz' life today, in the hope that in this way we would arrive at a picture of past and present: their story, told by them. They accepted the proposal. What I like most about the film that we made together is the clear feeling of camaraderie that comes across. I think it's easy to see that we enjoyed working together, that we shared the good times and the bad times, and also that we had plenty of laughs together in the process. The film is a document of the Kirghiz' past and culture, but also a document of an unusual and very enjoyable artistic project, and a record of a successful collaboration between people from very different cultures.
Film Information Collapse
[THIRT] | 2006 | 87 | Documentary Feature
Directed by: Ben Hopkins
Foreign Title: (37 Uses for a Dead Sheep)
Language: Kyrgyz, Turkish, English
Premiere: North American
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About the Director(s)Collapse
Originally born in Hong Kong in 1969, British filmmaker Ben Hopkins studied at Oxford University and in Edinburgh, where he directed his first stage productions. While studying at the Royal College of Art in London from 1989 to 1995, he made several short films, some of which won awards. His first feature film was Simon Magus (1998), which received critical acclaim in England and beyond. 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep, which Hopkins also wrote and coproduced, marks his second foray into documentary filmmaking. The film has already garnered press, having recently won the 2006 Caligari Film Award at the Berlin Film Festival.