The Stars’ Caravan (2000)

 “It was an honour to bring culture to the nomads.”

The Stars’ Caravan is a documentary that’s a feast for the eyes, but short on structure. Set in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan, the film shows the trials of an intrepid projectionist, who’s determined, in spite of savage budget cuts (thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union) to take film to the remotest corners of his country. He travels mainly on horse back to the areas dominated by nomadic tribes, and here, with his projection equipment, he shows such classics as Motorcycle Gangsters. In other scenes, (in more urban areas) a few people crowd into the ‘cinema’–in reality, this is a large room where people watch a VHS cassette on a small television.

The trials of the determined projectionist mingle with the footage of old Soviet propaganda films, clips of the story of the national 9th century hero Manas, and news reports of a hostage situation. Visually, the film is stunning, and one scene even shows a man using an eagle to hunt (something you’re not likely to see every day). Interesting comments, such as the projectionist’s observations that he can be both communist and a Muslim: “we’ve lived through so many political systems” are juxtaposed with such inconsequential stuff as the outpatient lancing of a boil. Unfortunately, the lack of structure is ultimately disappointing, and the 60 minute film remains impressionistic rather than substantive. Directed by Arto Halonen, The Stars’ Caravan  (aka Taivasta Vasten) is in Kyrgyz and Russian with English subtitles.

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