Azeri filmmaker Hilal Baydarov’s work has won attention for its stunning imagery, confident framing and lyrical pacing, turning landscapes into hypnotic portraits of alien but familiar worlds.
His masterclass at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival – his first ever and one he had to be thoroughly talked into, he says – offered rare insights into his approaches and methods, built around a screening of his new film “Sermon to the Fish.”
Original title “Balıqlara xütbə,” the Azerbaijan-Mexico-Switzerland-Turkey film opens on a young woman in a wild landscape whose head is completely wrapped, almost as if for burial, in a red floral scarf. Slowly, she lowers the scarf and her story about a ghost village where everyone has rotted away begins.
Her brother comes back from war saying “We won the war”But soon he is haunted by loss in an account that dwells long on stony reliefs and twisted trees, as well as vast, polluted, oil fields.
Having been labeled a master of slow cinema, Baydarov originally studied information technology, then became obsessed with film, he says, watching hundreds of art films and learned directing under Béla Tarr in Sarajevo. “I learned there was another world,”He speaks fondly about the time. This insight led to the creation of four fiction films and five documentary films. “Birthday” “One Day in Selimpasha”Ji.hlava screened this video in 2018.
His films are full of what is sometimes called “indistinct imagery”This blends well together with an “enigmatic, slightly mournful cast”He was called by one critic to be his latest work “a heavily atmospheric film made up of slow-moving, bleak scenes complemented by ambient, unsettling music as it attempts to answer the question of whether surviving is the same as living.”
His work has received praise and honors over the years. But 2020 drama? “In Between Dying”Baydarov was nominated to the Venice film festival’s Golden Lion award “I did not even know I was making a film”When he started shooting his original scripts.
Baydarov is a writer, director, editor, and film producer. He says that any script he has written is forgotten after he begins shooting. Baydarov prefers to follow the light and forms found on location, encouraging his actors to experiment and improvise.
“We are here for the beauty,”He recalls that he was unable to use his phone or social media during filming. “We are searching for the beauty.”
“I discover my films by editing,”Baydarov adds that he creates a rich soundscape from birds, insects, wind, and other unidentified tones in post production. For “Sermon to the Fish,”He says that he used to listen to hundreds of bird sounds before settling on the one that felt right.
He often refers to a lesson learned from Tarr, the great Hungarian surrealist. “Film like a dream, film like a music.”
But Baydarov also believes that cinema is in its early days as an art and filmmakers are only now learning what forms stories and image can take – and in particular how to work with time. Baydarov says that if the basis unit of music is the note, and literature the building block is the word, then cinema is time.
This realization drives much of Baydarov’s work, he says, rather than any interest in finding or telling a logical story. He believes that viewers will remember the deeper meaning of stories and scripted lines for a longer time than entertaining stories or entertaining stories. “Feeling.”
The young man’s return to the abandoned village in “Sermon to the Fish”Baydarov was most at home exploring Azeri landscapes turned into dark wonderlands, with Kanan Rustamli as his composer and Christian Giraud as his sound designer.
“I don’t like to watch my films,”Baydarov is open to discussing his characters, but he admits it. When journalists asked him about his characters, Baydarov once admitted to making up stories. He claims he has no knowledge of them.
Instead, he says, it’s about the search for the arresting moment, and always a surprise discovery. “A good film takes you to a place you have never been – but in a moment you feel it is yours.”
“You can never imagine what a single image will do for you,”He adds.