Noticias Festival
Interview with Askar Uzabayev, director of ‘Happiness’.

Happiness denounces the sexist violence and the social structure that allows it in today’s Kazakhstan. With a leisurely pace, sustained by a millimetric staging and a suffocating atmosphere, Askar Uzabayev’s film composes a harsh, at times distressing, female portrait of a patriarchal society in the process of decomposition.

– Despite the rich natural resources and huge territory, social and economic status of usual citizens of Kazakhstan is rather severe, especially when it comes to women and children. Why do you think is that?

Unfortunately, there is great corruption in the country, and therefore the country is developing very poorly, despite the fact that we have very good natural resources and educated people, but still corruption is the main point that our country is not developing and is the main brake on the development of our country.

– Has the COVID crisis with its restrictions made the situation even worse for women?

Yes, COVID increased the statistics of domestic violence, because when people were busy with work or some business, people were not concentrated in the area that people can stay with each other and start to sort out their relationship, so it turns out a closed space.

– In what way is this film based in real facts (by meaning whether you’ve used just one personal experience or compiled different women’s statements and integrated the whole on the plot)?

The film is based on real events, it is a collective image of everything that happened and is happening. We tried to make such a story so that every woman could see herself in this story and in this situation.

– How personal is the subject of your film, given done the producer has been a victim of domestic violence herself?

For me, the plot of the film is personal, because I frequently come over such instances in social media, where this or that woman has become a victim of domestic violence. Plus, there is a situation happened to our producer, who is, by the way, one of my good friends. At the moment when she was going through this tragic
situation we were getting ready to shoot another movie, it was a comedy. And because of these circumstances she, by the way, did not take part in that movie, the comedy, because she was in a critical state at the hospital under resuscitation. That was a very hard period and I was standing through it together with her.

– Your past 16 films have been mostly comedies, what were the challenges or portraying a drama which feels like a horror movie?
Yes, this is my first experience in the author’s cinema, but I can say one thing that initially when I studied to be a filmmaker, I knew that I would make an author’s film. I just came to this. In creating the image, we understood the genre, understood the history, and with the director of photography Maxim Zadarnovskiy, we chose the style of the image and tried to get as close as possible to natural lighting. I think we did it. The feeling of the horror film, the feeling of irreversibility and impossibility were also among the tasks of the film.

– Why did you decide to resort to crowdfunding to finance the film instead of asking for government or businesses support?

Why crowdfunding, because we thought that there are many people who care about this problem. Actually, we wanted people to be able to understand that they can somehow influence the situation. Why didn’t we ask help of our state with this idea, since our state at that time thought that there was no such problem in our country, and it was always difficult for the state to make honest and real films, and therefore, when we first started thinking that we wanted to make this film, we immediately realized one thing that if the state takes some part in this film, then we will not make a film, we will only make a film in which the state thinks that it solves this problem.

– The domestic violence problem in Kazakhstan remains invisible and immeasurable, because victims rarely report their cases to the police. Has your film already been premiered in your country? Is it helping to denounce the situation?

The premiere of the film has not yet taken place, we want to hold it in October to show the film, to be released, but the state is already adopting a number of laws that will protect women, and we think that by the New year there will be some clear situation.

– Up to seven actresses turned down the role, did you ever think that you weren’t going to succeed on finding the actress who would play the main character?

As for the actresses, we even had the idea not to make this movie, because a lot of actresses refused and our producer said that maybe we were making something wrong, and we would refuse to make this film. I said, give me one day and I’ll find an actress. Our actress Laura, she was the second number, and after talking with Laura and telling her about what the film would be, after receiving her consent, I realized that it was that
person and we literally decided to make this film in a day.

– Mirrors are used a lot to film the main characters, were you making use of them as a metaphore of some kind?

In this film, I wanted a woman who looks at herself or at her reflection to think about the fact that she is able to influence what happens to her. Because, after watching the movie, we wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and also, comparing ourselves with the heroine, we understand that we can also influence this situation ourselves and no one else.

– Why did you choose to give the main character a job as a cosmetics salesperson?

It seemed to me that the idea with the saleswoman was right, since she is constantly in contact with women whose stories are not told, and for me it was important that through this heroine we tell not her story, but the story of hundreds of other women.