Azerbaijani film old and new in the spotlight

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The European Azerbaijan Society has launched its Azerbaijani film festival at the Pera Museum in Istanbul with a screening of the restored and colourised version of 'Arshin mal alan'.

The audience in the cinema of the Pera Museum in Istanbul.

An expectant audience awaiting the screening of the rejuvenated 'Arshin mal alan'.

We hope you will all come to see the remainder of the festival, which showcases some of the most impressive Azerbaijani films from the past few years.

The 'Cinema of Azerbaijan' (Bu Kino Çox Gözal) festival, organised by the Turkish branch of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) and the Pera Museum – one of Istanbul’s leading cultural institutions – has opened.

The festival began on 23 January with a gala screening to an audience of around 80 invited guests of 'Arshin mal alan' (The Cloth Peddler), one of Azerbaijani cinema’s greatest triumphs. This has recently been digitally restored and colourised with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and ATA Holding. Featuring the dashing Rashid Behbudov, the legendary Azerbaijani lyric tenor, the film was made in 1945. It is based on Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s world-famous comic operetta of 1913, and features some outstanding melodies, which synthesise western writing with Azerbaijani mugham, graceful national dances and amusing comic sequences. It was popular across the entire Soviet Union and Turkic-speaking world, and was remade in 1965.

Tale Heydarov, Chairman and Founder, TEAS said: “I am delighted that we are beginning this festival of Azerbaijani cinema with the restored version of 'Arshin mal alan'. The Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyli is an important figure in the history of music, for he composed 'Leyli and Majnun' in 1908, the first opera in the Muslim world. The songs and dances from 'Arshin mal alan' remain very popular, and this film exemplifies how Azerbaijani culture remained alive and vibrant, even during the Soviet period.”

Rena Rzaeva, Istanbul Representative, TEAS Turkey, remarked: “I am pleased that TEAS has been able to organise this festival of Azerbaijani cinema at the Pera Museum, located in the heart of Istanbul. The Pera Museum values cinema on equal parity with other art-forms, and is renowned for its interesting and eclectic film programming. We hope you will all come to see the remainder of the festival, which showcases some of the most impressive Azerbaijani films from the past few years, several of which have been submitted for the Academy Awards.”

Comprising eight Azerbaijani films, the festival runs from 24 January–2 February. Azerbaijan has a rich cinematic history, which began in 1898 with a documentary entitled 'The Oil Gush Fire in Bibiheybat', filmed by Alexandre Michon, the French entrepreneur, photographer and cameraman. He was closely connected to the Lumière brothers, the inventors of the Cinématographe.

The remainder of the programme focuses on some of the country’s recent cinematic successes, including 'The Bat' (Ayaz Salayev, 1995), an homage to silent cinema; 'Fortress' (Shamil Najafzadeh, 2008), an intriguing story about how a crew filming a war film gradually become engulfed in a real war; 'Holy Animal' (Yavar Rzayev, 2011), an allegorical tale of an adolescent shepherd in a remote, challenging region of the country; and 'Steppe Man' (Shamil Aliyev, 2012), Azerbaijan’s Official Submission for the Best Foreign Language Film in the 2014 Academy Awards.

Go to to see the full programme and book tickets.

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