37 USES FOR A DEAD SHEEP
(director: Ben Hopkins; cinematographer: Gary Clarke; editor: Marco van Welzen; music: Paul Lewis; cast: Alpaslan Kutlu (Haji Rahman Qul, younger), Arif Kutlu (Haji Rahman Qul, older); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Natasha Dack/Ben Hopkins; Tigerlily Films; 2006-UK-in English and Turkish with English subtitles)
“It tried some hokey humor and too clumsily presented a series of dull reenactments for it to hold my complete attention.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Englishman Ben Hopkins (“The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz”) directs a warm-hearted but not a particularly cohesive documentary about the semi-nomadic Pamir Kirghiz tribe, who over the past century (since 1895) have made various forced journeys from their original homeland in the remote mountains of the U.S.S.R in Central Asia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and in recent times, their final destination, where some 2,000 of them have settled in a small village in rural eastern Turkey. The tribe welcomes their new homeland because they have Turkish roots and share their same language, religious beliefs and culture. Hopkins uses reenactments of some of the main incidents in the tribe’s history to tell why they were always on the move (talking with great fondness of their charismatic leader Haji Rahman Qul, who led them since the 1930s until his death in 1990). It tried some hokey humor and too clumsily presented a series of dull reenactments for it to hold my complete attention. There’s an exciting story waiting to be found about a people living as simple sheepherders in modern times without any modern conviences, unfortunately to hear the story one has to sit through a lot of mush, corny yuks and some lame Herzog imitations of how to shoot a documentary.
Hopkins actually co-directs the film with a local, Ekber Kutlu (a Kirghiz scholar and self-trained artist), who knew the history and the period costumes worn, as his knowledge of the people is used to tell the story in an authentic way.
The peaceful small tribe, with a skill in raising sheep and goats, left Russia because the Commies confiscated their property. In China they had to deal with Mao and his revolutionary boys, and find it better to leave then starve. In Afghanistan the conditions were too harsh atop a remote mountain area where it was too cold for their animals or for them to farm, and when Russia invaded they saw no reason any more to stay. In Pakistan they lived miserably in a refugee camp, where all their valued animals died. They wrote to outsiders to help them find a new place for their homeland, and in circa 1979 were given a choice between Alaska and the small village in the mountains of eastern Turkey. The choice was a no-brainer. But there’s no work here and they are no longer a nomadic tribe able to practice their old ways, and their children are leaving in droves for places like Istanbul where there are a thousand of them employed in leather factories; we also see one successful young lady who works for the last two months in a modern hospital as a special operation nurse. One young loafer, complaining there’s nothing to do in the boring village but sleep, dreams of coming to Istanbul and opening up an Internet café.
This film uniquely has the Kirgiz people helping to make their own documentary by acting in the reenactment and collaborating with the willing to listen director. The tongue-in-cheek history lesson caught these hard-pressed people in another stage of transition, as their future looks bleak and it’s hard to imagine them surviving without somehow changing their ways.
The title of the film is derived from the director sitting outside on a bench with the village elder and talking about all the things they can do with a dead sheep (Like make yogurt that can be used to feed in bulk to someone who is poisoned so he can vomit out the poison).
REVIEWED ON 2/12/2008 GRADE: C+