Many episodes of such famous films as “White Sun of the Desert” (Beloye solntse pustyni), “Officers” (Ofitsery) and “Kin-dza-dza!”, which have become movie classics with a long screen life, have been shot in various places in Turkmenistan. Each of them had a difficult fate and many interesting stories related to their creation, and some of the lines of dialogue from films have become everyday catch phrases and passed into the colloquial language.
The film “White Sun of the Desert” directed by Vladimir Motyl tells the story of the adventures of the Red Army soldier Sukhov, who is trying to return home. On the way back, he gets mixed up with some women from bandit Abdullah’s harem whom he must save. The history of its creation is as follows: in the second half of the 1960s, at the height of film’s fame about “The Elusive Avengers”, the Soviet cinematographic leadership referred to the genre of Eastern. Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky and Friedrich Gorenstein were invited to work on the script for the new adventure film, but the initial version of the script draft-titled Basmachi was turned down by Mosfilm studio. And then, Valentin Yezhov, author of “The Ballad of the Soldier”, was assigned to improve the script of the national Eastern movie.
Yezhov chose the Central Asian desert as a place of action. Since Yezhov himself had never been in the region and desert, his fellow student of the Higher Scenario Courses Rustam Ibragimbekov was chosen by his nationality as an expert on the East. Collecting material for the script, Yezhov met with veterans of the Civil War, who in the 1920s fought against a Basmachi in Central Asia. A war veteran told Yezhov a story of a harem abandoned by a Basmachi leader on a run and Red Army soldiers had to take the confused women to a nearby shore village, which became the pivot of the new script. Therefore, the finished script was first titled “Save the Harem” and later was changed to the draft title “Desert”.
In May 1969, the film crew chose the vicinity of the city of Bayram-Ali in Turkmenistan as a film location. That year, it was extra rainy season in the Karakum Desert that the sands disappeared under tall grasses. Motyl with his assistants flew hundreds of kilometers in a helicopter, but did not find the right shooting location. The army came to the rescue: the soldiers of the local military unit weeded tens of square kilometers of desert in a matter of weeks. The shooting was completed in September 1969, but after viewing the finished material at the Mosfilm, the movie was not approved. And it would have been keeping on the shelf if Leonid Brezhnev had not been interested in film novelties and was not a fan of Western. One of the autumn days of 1969, he decided to watch some new Russian film in his country house. And the person on duty at the film storage, at his own responsibility and risk, offered him to watch the “White Sun of the Desert”. Brezhnev liked the movie very much, and he ordered to get the film into theaters. The premiere of the movie took place in in Moscow in March 1970 and achieved a truly legendary fame. Many popular sayings have entered the colloquial language from the film: I feel ashamed for the great state (Za derjavu obidno), Customs gives the green light (Tamojnya dayot Dobro), The Orient is a delicate matter (Vostok – delo tonkoye) etc.
As it is known, as a ritual , the film “White Sun of the Desert” is shown astronauts before blastoff. The film has been watched by every astronaut since its release. There is even a cassette tape of the film on board the International Space Station. Ritual also has applied meaning – the film teaches astronauts the basics of film making in outer space.
Filmed almost half a century ago, the legendary film “Officers” is a hymn of military valor and honor, friendship and devoted love, was dedicated to the Victory Day celebration, fulfilling the state order and personal wishes of Marshal A.A. Grechko, as the entire filming process was under the personal control of him. It is said that the famous phrase “There is such a profession – to defend the Motherland” belongs precisely to the head of the military department of the USSR. The script for the film “Officers” was written by Boris Vasilyev, the author of the famous story “And the dawns here are quiet” along with his friend and co-author Kirill Rapoport. The shooting locations were accross the Soviet Union – in Moscow and the Moscow region, Tver, Sevastopol, as well as in the vicinity of Ashgabat in the Kopetdag gorge. Here, at the mouth of the Glubinka gorge, one of the brightest action scenes of the film was shot. It was here that the ambush was made on the horse pursuers after Lyuba Trofimova and her saviors.
Glubinka (Golubinka) is a picturesque gorge with springs and high walls. At the mouth, its walls are not high much, but already here the authors of the film “Officers” found excellent nature for shooting. There are only hiking paths in the depths of the gorge. The equipment cannot be brought in and the horses cannot be taken in. This place is popular among Ashgabat mountain tourists and climbers. There are equipped climbing walls. It is a home for alpinist climbing camps of Turkmenistan “Agama” and “Mert”.
There are many interesting facts about the film. For example, about the actress Alina Pokrovskaya who was carried by a hot Turkmen horse, and Yumatov and Lanov run after her and hardly stopped the reckless horse. Or about how a small episode in the ‘”Officers” changed the fate of 11-month-old Volodya Selivanov, who was taken from the baby’s home to play Vanya Trofimov in his infancy. His mother saw her abandoned child on the screen and took him home. Shamuhammed Akmuhammedov, a Turkmen theater designer, film designer, actor and publicist (1934-2010), played the part of the Basmach rebel-translator Kerim in the film “Officers”.
When the shooting of the movie was completed, the military officials did not approve the film, the film was given the fourth category, which meant the minimum number of copies and limited showing in cinemas. Only after Klavdia Vladimirovna Grechko, the wife of the Minister of Defense, was impressed by film to tears, who, in a some sense, became the muse of this picture, and the marshal himself took the film to the Kremlin, to show it to Brezhnev, the “Officers” were released on a wide screen. The film became the leader of the 1971 film distribution and is traditionally shown on TV on February 23, Defender of the Fatherland Day.
The desert landscapes of Turkmenistan were captured by another hit, the fantastic tragicomedy cult film Kin-dza-dza! released by Mosfilm studio in 1986 and directed by Georgiy Daneliya. Once the director shared with the Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, who was visiting him, that he is in interested in making a modern and unusual film targeted towards youth, but he did have no idea about a plot. “The winters in Russia are too cold and long, just make a fairy tale so that you can warm up,” Guerra advised. Daneliya decides to shoot fantasy, sending the heroes to another planet, where it is very hot and the heroes want to return home. Karakum Desert, not far from the now-days city of Balkanabat in Barsakelmes, became a shooting place, where the film crew worked.
It was planned to finish the film by early spring, before the heat season starts, but the unexpected happened … the Pepelats, an interplanetary spacecraft, which by mistake left for Vladivostok, disappeared. By the way, Pepelats is from the Georgian word “pepela” for butterfly. Film shooting began in the summer, and it was possible to work only early in the morning or late in the evening – as it was scorching heat during the day. The actors recalled the shooting as difficult, but very funny and friendly – everyone had a wonderful sense of humor and ironic attitude to the film.
The censor officials approved the film “Kin-dza-dza!” without any remark. Everyone was surprised as the film was not just a fantasy, but also featured some satire. “Kin-dza-dza!” was not succeed in cinemas, but over the years, the movie began to gain popularity, and already in the 90s, the comedy had more fans than at the time of its premiere. In 2013, Georgiy Daneliya released an animated remake of his film, named Ku! Kin-dza-dza!, which became the last work directed by him.