Lunch with The Hamsa
Could you explain to us what “hamsa” means and what it refers to here?
Hamsa, in Arabic, means five, exactly five main actors in the film. Hamsa is also the Hand of Miriam (Fatima). Women with an unshakable character, ready to endure any test of fate. Why is the title an Arabic word? This is an important point, because when it came to the North Caucasus, Islam began to supplant our traditions and customs, or to replace many of them, with its own culture. Exactly the same way as with the conquest of our land by the Russian Empire; the Russian language began to slowly spread around the region and local languages started to die out as they were considered unnecessary in modern Russian society. Here, the hamsa is an example of a new strong, powerful culture absorbing a small and weak one. Just like the Azan (the Muslim call to ritual prayer made by a muezzin) at the end of the film, when we see landscapes of an abandoned city, at the moment when the hero sits at the grave of a deceased friend. The city is practically abandoned, similar to a cemetery, and the Azan sounds louder and louder, calling for the prayer.
Can you tell us about the filming location? Has the place been half-destroyed or abandoned?
The film was shot at the foot of Mount Elbrus, in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, one of the North Caucasus republics that have been part of Russia for 200 years. About 10 years ago, one part of the city was destroyed by an avalanche. People still live in another part, which isn’t as empty and abandoned as the film shows. It was the necessity of drama to show it like this, part of my story.
What inspired you to come up with the character of Isa?
At first glance, you might think that this is a story about men, about Isa, but he is only a secondary character. To me, the main characters are the wife and mother. Women whose characters are similar to these harsh mountain landscapes. Women who have suffered pain and loss, while the men played a game called “war”, it was women who saved children and the elderly from death – saved families. And they did not let our people disappear. Women in this film are taught to forgive, they are taught to live and move on!
You have a background in science and economics. What made you decide to explore filmmaking at professional level?
I am from a small town, in the outback of the North Caucasus. I always wanted to leave and see the world. And when I managed to move from Dagestan to Kabardino-Balkaria, to work for the American organization IREX, we worked with children who had survived the war but lost their parents. I found out that Alexander Sokurov was opening the first film studio in the North Caucasus, in the exact place where I was at that time. I had never thought of being a film director, I was never associated with television or cinema, and neither was anyone in my family. I had never heard about Alexander Sokurov until 2010. But my craving for change and a new life led me to his studio.
You also have experience directing documentaries. Are you keen to focus purely on fiction now or would you like to carry on working with both genres?
I love documentaries and when I have the opportunity to shoot one, I do it. This is an opportunity to be in work and be an active director. Working on a feature film costs a lot of money and time, and in documentary, you pay only for your time. And by a philosophical way of thinking, time is more valuable than money but I still have much more time than money. Sometimes I do not have any money at all…
If you’ve already been to Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote or story from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this year?
This is my first time at the Clermont-Ferrand film festival and I hope that my participation will help me make my debut full-length film. Similar film festivals, for us – young directors from godforsaken places – are like a shield from enemies. They help us move on and fight all the obstacles on the way.