4 December 2021

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Oleg SAFARALIYEV: "Creativity, like self-expression through creativity, does not tolerate dictatorship."

Author:

01.09.2021

These days we often can hear and even eyewitness the low level of professional training of certified specialists engaged in arts and creativity.

In fact, the specialists have expressed their opinion long ago: the Bologna educational system has failed to provide the society with high-quality professionals.

The system was introduced in Azerbaijan back in 2005. In 2010, almost all universities in Baku adopted the Bologna Declaration. And today the problem of personnel training based on the Bologna system at colleges and universities teaching art became quite obvious. Not because there are no specialists, professionals, but because the number of hours allocated to teach major subjects is ridiculously small. Art direction classes twice a week for two academic hours makes a total of 180 minutes a week! Perhaps this is why we have not seen bright personalities in theatrical and film art in the past 15 years. There is not a single young director or actor who would amaze or excite the audiences with their talent!

Yes, we take part in many international theatre and film festivals. Yes, we get awards, diplomas, and presents. But look at the age of directors. Every passing year, we have fewer talented directors, who understand that both cinema and theatre are not just "picture editing", but something much more significant. Especially if we acknowledge that both types of Art meant to serve humanity, remaining Art with a capital A, not just a fake reflection of it.

It is clear that the definition of Art must meet the needs of society. But the society of the 21st century, which has lost its ideological aspect of the "doer of reasonable, good, and eternal" once supported by the state, chooses what it thinks Art should be. Then, do we need professionals with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills? Yes, we do. We have discussed these questions with film director, screenwriter, producer and teacher at the School of Cinema of the Azerbaijan Union of Cinematographers, Oleg Safaraliyev.

He is a teacher, a cinema professional, an excellent interlocutor and storyteller, a strict guru who knows how to captivate his listeners with stories about the idea, meaning and importance of the language of cinema, a person who perfectly knows the history of European, national and world art. Apart from teaching directing, he is praised for reciting poems by Lermontov, Baratynsky, Zabolotsky, Pushkin, Brodsky, Saadi, Nizami... His feeling of word, line, stanza, and poetic size gives the listeners not only wonderful poetic images, but also the illusion of authenticity.

Oleg Safaraliyev graduated from VGIK in 1988 (studied under Sergei Solovyov and Anatoly Vasiliev). He is a director and producer of full-length feature films and serials, as well as the TV program Слушается дело (1999-2001) on the Russian channel RTR, many television series broadcast by ORT, RTR, TV-3, a producer and general director (1996-2006) of Eurasia Film. Our dialogue with Oleg SAFARALIYEV was sort of an educational conversation to unfold the off-screen secrets of movie making usually taught at school. Yes, you read it right: from school.

 

Read. Look. Write.

School is perhaps the most accurate definition of the learning process, the atmosphere of creativity and professional trust between students and their teacher. During the several hours at the school, we have seen a dozen of graduate students either getting behind the editing table, consulting with the master, or watching the footage trying to determine the technological nuances and subtleties of the production process. One could not help but notice that the organic development of events had something very similar to the Plato classes in Ancient Greece. Similarly, the way of transferring knowledge from teacher to listener was not something set in stone or didactic, but stemmed from the creative need to learn the secrets of a professional craft through the establishment of stable and trustful dialogue. As soon as you start feeling this impregnating aura of teaching and learning process, you start to realise that the locals here believe in the creative potential of everyone who can and loves to work. If you successfully pass the admission tests, it means you have that spark of creativity that can some day ignite the flame of high professionalism. In other words, you have a chance to become someone whose creative voice the world needs to hear so much. Or you remain nothing: an individual with mediocre ambitions, unable to take advantage of the chance. Everyone has the right to choose. And here they judge this through the practical realisation of your dream of a profession, not just by talking about it.

The school has a fairly extensive program and strict teaching rules. Quite tough, but not forced. There are three professional directions here: film drama workshop, directing workshop and animation workshop. Each group of students has the right to choose to be or not to be a professional. And if you still decide to be a professional, remember that a creative vocation is not confined by an eight-hour working day, weekends and vacations. Creativity is a state of mind and soul 24/7. Years. Decades. As long as you live. Therefore, the motto of the school – Read. Look. Write – is not only for two years of study, but is meant to set your attitude for the rest of your life.

 

"Oleg, can anyone enter your school?"

"Yes, but applicants should at least have received secondary or higher education and extensive knowledge in literature, cinema, and art. They should also have an ability to think creatively."

"How do you usually announce your admission program?"

"It is done through the websites of both the Union of Cinematographers and our school. After submitting their application, they are invited for an individual interview."

"How many applicants did you have in 2019-2021?"

"One hundred and twenty. Half of them were dropped out after the interview. This number was cut in another half after our review of their creative works. Then, as usual, after the first year of study, there are still dropouts. During this period, we move from theory to practice. We also can see if a person has creative abilities or not. Now we have 10-12 people who write scripts and produce films at the same time..."

"Meaning?.."

"Our classes are modelled after the Higher Courses for Directors and Screenwriters in Moscow. Our scriptwriters and directors take part in training jointly. This is important because cinema is a process of merging the skills of screenwriters, directors, actors and cameramen..."

"What are your requirements for perspective students who want to be directors?"

"They should write two or three short stories and two or three synopsis (concepts) for their future films..."

"What is your general impression of those 120 applicants, including the dropouts?"

“Well, the general educational and cultural level of our young people could be better, of course. They read quite little. That’s why they do not know the world classics: no literature, no films, no fine arts. That’s why half of the applicants are dropped out immediately.”

"You mean the graduates of schools who, theoretically, should have received this knowledge?"

"Unfortunately, yes..."

"What do you teach the successful students at directing workshop?"

"Everything a director needs to know and be able to do: history of world cinema, fine arts, basics of editing and cinematography, film drama, collaboration with actors, the art of photography."

"And they can make good progress?"

"How else can they do that? If they really want to get something, they should sleep less."

"Do you give them specific instructions?"

"I can advise or suggest something, but giving instructions means pressing on them. Creativity, like self-expression through creativity, does not tolerate dictatorship. From the first year of study, they are assigned a task of watching classic films and reading classical literature. Assignments are given in the form of recommendations. And if a student chooses to be a professional, then he will find time to see and read everything. The Harvard University assignment obliges them to watch 800 films, while I ask them for 250 only."

"That's a lot!"

"That's not all. Each film must be watched three times. During the first watch, they should get to know the plot. The second time they study the nuances of screenwriting and the paradigm (conceptual scheme) of the script. The third time they should watch the film without sound – to study the techniques of editing and cinematography..."

"What is your program for the second year of study?"

“If the synopsis gets our approval, students begin script writing, filming and editing the film. And then it becomes clear if they are ready for independent creative activity, have the knowledge and will to realise their ideas on the screen or not...”

"Can you name a few of your promising students?"

"Never! It would not be right from the pedagogical point of view. But I can tell you the names of those who took part and were awarded at the 11th Baku Short Film Festival held in December 2020."

"And?"

"Azer Allahverdiyev became the winner in two nominations – Best Film and Best Screenplay for his film Three Roads. Elnur Pasha was awarded the Grand Prix of the festival for The Well. Nijat Dadashov received the diploma of the festival For the Best Script of A Documentary. He also became the winner of the pitching competition organised by the Ministry of Culture with the script for his short film The Wall. This is the result of two years of schooling. Now they are all working on their theses. They are going to defend them in the autumn of 2021."

"Will they get their diplomas?"

"They will receive the standard diplomas of our film school."

"What else do you practice at the school besides practical and theoretical learning?"

"Master classes by leading cinematographers. We had a masterclass on screenwriting held by the famous Russian screenwriter Pavel Finn, and Ali Khamraev, a classic of Soviet cinema, who held a masterclass on directing. The renowned French photojournalist Reza Deghati taught art photography."

"How will the diploma defense be held: with or without spectators?"

"I think it's too early to talk about this during the pandemic. Let's wait for autumn. I would like, of course, to see it as a holiday..."

"Do you have any age restrictions for the cinema workshop?"

“Yes, we do. We do not accept minors and persons of retirement age.”

"When are you going to open admissions to the cinema school?"

"We will definitely announce the even on our websites."



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