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Interview with Odgerel Odonchimed
History, a Festival and the future. Such is the perspective on Mongolian cinema as observed by Odgerel Odonchimed, the director of the Arts Council Mongolia. It is an institution that observes society through art, and that through art aims to interact with that society, tracing trajectories, actively involving society, building economic opportunities and promoting the country in the world. “The cultural and artistic tradition of Mongolia has very ancient roots - she says - and has gone through its entire historical process, from antiquity to globalization. Cinema appeared in the early 1900s and experienced the enormous changes that have characterized the last 120 years of the country at the forefront, playing a significant role in the development of the Mongolian arts scene.”
Cinema reflects the history and development of the country. With cinema we can be witnesses of the current social mentality, of common and personal values.
Could it be the bridge between that secular tradition and contemporary reality?
«It has to be and it is. Cinema reflects the history and development of the country. I am from the 70s and films from the 50s and 60s were a point of reference; I love them, they’re so full of naivety and romance. Clearly the generation that made those films and the generation that builds Mongolian cinema today are extremely different; that of today I see more and more isolated from the old traditions and attracted by media and technology. Having said that, I believe that cinema is the ideal means to educate and transmit our history and our traditions, while reflecting the needs of new filmmakers and speaking their language. With cinema we can be witnesses of the current social mentality, of common and personal values. For this we should work on the quality of our films; today most of the local films lack high artistic values and are purely aimed at profit.».
What did the dissolution of the Soviet bloc take away in cultural and cinematic terms?
«After the revolution of 1921, films and film equipment were purchased and a real generation of film students was formed in the Soviet Union. Soviet assistance ensured that the directors were well trained, that the equipment was readily available and that there was a solid distribution network, but this came at the expense of creative freedom. With a rigorous system that saw bureaucrats oversee every step of the film making process, the filmmakers faced an uphill battle to get their films out. Today Mongolian filmmakers have the artistic freedom but lack the means and support to express their creativity. There are virtually no state subsidies, which means forcing filmmakers to seek independent funding, often from private companies eager for a quick return on their investment. There is no formal distribution network and, in the absence of a diverse offer, the public is better acquainted with Hollywood blockbusters than solid local products, creating a distorted demand.»
What role can UBIFF play in the future of Mongolian cinema?
“The Arts Council of Mongolia is the main organizer of the Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival, of which we organized the 12th edition this year. UBIFF will play a significant role in the development of Mongolian cinema because it has everything it takes to make it grow, like other major international festivals, such as the training of young directors, market involvement, a Mongolian competition, international screenings and audience development. Every year we see the participation of local filmmakers grow, as does the public. I think the festival is the most powerful tool to recognize artistic creativity and to connect our talents and our audience. Not to mention its fundamental role as platforms of ideas, for a continuous exchange that can only mean growth, and therefore the future.”