Monday, 6 October 2008

UNICEF-workshop held in Ashgabat/Turkmenistan

End October Andreas Templin held a film-workshop for UNICEF in Ashgabat/Turkmenistan together with videoartist Kristina Kersa and UNICEF's Chris Schuepp in the framework of the theoneminutes-foundation.
An article on his impressions combined with a video has just been published with 3c° World magazine

Turkmenistan through the eyes of a Berlin artist

November 3, 2008 Editor: Asia No Comments
A few years ago the Amsterdam-based oneminutes-foundation, which promotes video works of exactly one minute in length, asked me if I would take part in a new cooperative venture, oneminutesjr, they had started with UNICEF. The idea was to create a pool of video artists from different countries who would be willing to conduct workshops with kids and facilitate the making of one-minute videos.
The project was a big success. So too was the oneminutes-concept that started it all, which quickly grew and now showcases and exhibits worldwide. I gladly accepted this invitation and work for them whenever time is available. I like the experience of working with kids, fostering their creative skills (which I think is the essence of the project), and leaving them with a little toolbox for producing media-content by themselves. The job is very different from what you usually do as a visual artist. Usually I split my time between meetings, planning, correspondence, travelling, producing, and exhibiting- in a sort of simulacrum, embedded in a closed society that sees itself as its main point of reference. I imagine other visual artists have such experiences. So the workshops also help me to touch down in the real world, which I find very healthy.

The concept of the workshops
The workshops usually last five days. Two facilitators, plus one person from UNICEF, and often someone from the local UNICEF office who helps in planning, translating, and finding props or locations conduct them. As equipment, we bring five mini-DV cameras, tripods, and MacBook Pros with all the common video editing software. On day one, the kids learn something about the basics of telling a story and filming. We show example movies, develop, and discuss the first proposals. On the second day, we finalize most of the proposals in individual talks and some scenes are shot. Shooting schedules fill the next two days, followed by editing individual videos with each participant, which usually takes up the 36 hours to their presentation on the fifth day. UNICEF is good at organizing screening-events and also helps placing the videos in contexts like local TV and film-festivals. This is very important because it shows that the videos are not produced just for their own sake Many receive prizes and always high acclaim at their first audience presentations. This success testifies to the value of the projects.
Upon arriving in Turkmenistan and entering the capital city of Ashgabat by car, we drove along an 8-lane parade street with 8 to 10-floor apartment buildings, all looking quiet new. My Estonian colleague pointed out that all the houses were symbolically assigned to different professions like mineworkers, doctors and so on. The whole inner city was completely new, monumental, and based on urban planning concepts that can only be described as cryptic. Vast spaces between the apartment blocks only added to their monumental character. Driving further to the centre, we encountered the golden statues. Everywhere there are golden statues of Saparmyrat Ataýewiç Nyýazow, known as Turkmenbashi, the “father of all Turkmens,” till his death in 2006 the lord-president of Turkmenistan. With the massive amounts earned from the country’s natural gas riches, and with the independence that came from the dissolution of the USSR, Turkmenbashi gave orders for a complete and monumental makeover of Ashgabat. There are huge green parks and fountains in a region with massive water problems. Police officers stand 24/7 at nearly every street corner. And, of course the golden statues. The new leader, President Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhammedow, is now using all the buildings that do not have a statue of his predecessor in front to feature his huge portrait photographs. However, all these are eclipsed by a 50-meter tower with a golden statute of Turkmenbashi atop, rotating always to face the sun, and illuminated at night. Also remarkable and a clear indication of who had the final say in all things is the 8-lane highway which simply ends at a military-guarded gate to the president’s mansion. Nearby, is the 6 km long “Walk of Health” that Turkmenbashi built for the country’s parliamentarians to walk once a year (there is also a 30km extension to the mountains, for the healthier members of parliament to walk). All is floodlit, 24/7, as is almost every building in town. You can get an impression of the city here.
Ashgabat has everything a city should have: An opera house, a philharmonic building, a theatre. Although most of them hold ensembles, they are not allowed to play and perform very often. Other boulevards are plastered with universities. You might imagine this would provide everyone with a chance for a decent education. Not really, the prestigious universities ask up to US$100,000 for admission. Education seems to be very basic in the country, although probably all Turkmens read the book Ruchnama, a spiritual guidance book by Turkmenbashi. You can read a really interesting insight into life and how to make money in Ashgabat in an article by UNICEF‘s Chris Schuepp, which you can find here.

The workshop 
Although UNICEF asked their local office to look for kids to participate in the workshop, we were presented with 23 film and TV students, accompanied by two teachers, quiet moderate older men. So instead of kids, with whom UNICEF usually works with, it seemed the authorities “assigned” film-students to attend the workshop. The workshop-theme was to create movies on HIV/AIDS. In the beginning, a presentation was held by an expert from the local UNICEF-office. As HIV is officially nonexistent in Turkmenistan (unofficial numbers suggest about 200 cases in Ashgabat), questions about what the students would know returned answers like: “not properly washed vegetables“ or even “inadequate speech“, which made that introduction more than necessary. The next difficulty was to develop ideas which would comply with the strict censorship-rules, something which is rather difficult due to the ailment‘s nature and to break open the slightly hermetic film-schooled concepts of the participants. We were excluded from most of the filming. Most of the film-students saw the workshop more as a competition to show off their skills. However, they were quite receptive to our preparatory suggestions and a couple of really nice movies were created which you can find here.
Author: Andreas Templin