The "Breakthrough" programme directs the attention of the viewing public to Yakut cinematography of the middle of the last decade.
Yakut cinema is a highly distinctive epicentre of ethnic cinema in Russia; a "small industry" that paradoxically enjoys a combination of stability and dynamism
It originated in the mid-eighties. Two opuses claim the status of "the first Yakut film" – Alexei Romanov's short film Mappa and a television film by Anatoly Vasilyev entitled The Old Toy, both filmed in 1986. The first stage in the formation of the cinema of the Sakha Republic came in the nineties. In 1992, by decree of the President of the Republic, Mikhail Nikolayev, the national studio Sakha-Film was founded, and has been in operation to this day. A characteristic feature of this initial period in the development of local cinema was the predominance of educational goals over commercial ones, due to both the ideological situation and economic factors. A gamble was made on adapting short prose works from among the classics of local literature. The intention was to have a national cinema that would contribute to the process of national construction (the ethnic self-determination of the Sakha people, who would thereby gain "mental autonomy", and find their own place in the cultural space of the new, post-Soviet Russia).
The most notable films of the first half of the 2000s (the "noughties") were made by graduates from the Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors – Nikita Arzhakov and Vyacheslav Semyonov. 2004 saw the first independent Yakut film, My Love (directed by Sergei Potapov), celebrate its premiere at the Tsentralny cinema theatre. The box office success of this picture stimulated the emergence of several private companies. In the latter half of the decade, the Yakut film industry's genre repertoire took shape, remaining relevant today, and its main economic model was established. The film-going public was found to prefer melodramas, comedies and horror films above other genres.
The economic model of Yakut cinema was based on a very sound calculation: the number of potential viewers is limited by the population size of the Sakha people (numbering 480 thousand, according to the 2010 census), and so project costs must be reasonable, otherwise distribution in the theatres would not bring in the expected income. The standard budget for a Yakut movie in the later 2000s and the first half of the 2010s ranged from one to three million rubles. An important factor that influenced the boom of Yakut cinema was the specifics of local film distribution. The Republic's cinemas, reviving after the crisis of the nineties, had retained their independence from the major Moscow companies, and therefore reserved the right to select their own repertoire.
The majority of directors did not have any specialist qualifications (at best, they had graduated from a theatrical university). The economic model set the limits of their directorial freedom. The filmmaker was given the chance to reveal his own individuality – within the framework of the established canon. But the European concept of the "omnipotence of the author" was a long time in taking root in Yakutia: films had to meet the expectations of the local public; otherwise they wouldn't be able to pay for themselves.
The stage of maturation and of building a special identity lasted about ten years (from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s). But fateful changes were forthcoming in 2015-2016. Yakut films then found their way to the Russian festivals (Motion Omsk, the Kazan International Muslim Film Festival, and the Vyborg Film Festival), and the Seoul Art Cinema presented the first foreign retrospective of films from the Republic of Sakha.
The local film industry began to receive recognition – beyond the borders of Yakutia – as an original cultural phenomenon. And this had its influence on its subsequent festival fortunes – over time, Yakut directors would come to amass a highly respectable collection of festival prizes (including Kinotavr, Kinoshock, Vyborg, the Moscow International Film Festival, and Karlovy Vary).
In the middle of the last decade there was a change of generations and a change of leadership on the creative scene. Sergei Potapov made his last (so far) feature film The God Dyesegei. A generation of new authors came into directing (Dmitry Davydov, Tatyana Everstova, Alexei Ambrosyev Jr., Prokopy Burtsev, Stepan Burnashev, Kostas Marsan, and Konstantin Danilov).
It was at this point that part of the Yakut filmmaking community broke away from the "insular thinking" of the past, reorienting from an internal audience to the external one. This outward movement (a rejection of the isolationist position) paradoxically united figures from opposite camps: commercial and auteur cinema. The specifics of their films meant that they were incapable of paying off at the domestic box office. The plots of pictures became more complicated, and more ambiguous types of characters appeared on the screen.
The middle of the last decade represents a turning point in the history of Yakut cinema. It has now entered its age of creative maturity, having received recognition outside the region, and has transformed from a narrow local phenomenon into a significant instance of the multi-ethnic cultural milieu of the Russian Federation.