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Suleiman Mountain

original title: Suleiman Gora

2017, 102 min., color, Kyrgyz

adoption Asia father-son healer love triangle melo mother-son mountain orphanage ritual road movie tradition

CATEGORIES : Drama, Debut
COUNTRIES: Russia, Kyrgyzstan
PRODUCTION : BUDGET : 3 600 000 euro



Daniel Daiyerbekov (as Uluk), Perizat Ermanbetova (as Zhypara), Asset Imangaliev(as Karabas), Turgunay Erkinbekova (as Turganbyubyu)


Director : Screenplay : Alisa Khmelnitskaya
Cinematographer : Tudor Vladimir Panduru
Producers : Yelena Yatsura (Virtual Kick Studio), Andrey Devyatkin, Victor Kuznetsov


Festivals:  Festival de Cine Al Este (Peru) 2019, Seoul International Agape FF (Agape Choice) 2019International FF of Uruguay 2019Pune IFF 2019, Dhaka International FF 2019, San Francisco International Film Festival 2018, Hong Kong International Film Festival 2018 (World Cinema), Palm Springs IFF 2018 (Competition), Toronto International FF 2017 (Discovery), Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon IFFl /PYIFF 2017 (Competition)


 The production of Suleiman Montain brought together three countries and nine producers. Yelena Yatsura (Virtual Kick Studio) with Victor Kuznetsov and Andrey Devyatkin from Russia, who produced and distributed some of most important first features. In Kyrgyzstan, the film was supported by the most renowned Kyrgyz producers Sadyk Sher-Niyaz and Samat Sabraev, and Telegey Company. And finally, Radka Bardes, Tomek Moravský, New Europe Sales, and Jan Navazhevsky from Poland. Without this multilateral collaboration it would have been impossible to create this film.

Yelena Yatsura, General Producer: “Suleiman Mountain for me emerged from the group of writers that I am most intrigued by within the world of Russian film. So I had to read it, at the very least. I had already worked with Alisa Khmelnitskaya, the scriptwriter, on her first script called 9 MONTHS, which became the debut for the now famous director Rezo Gigineyshvili (his film ‘Hostages’ took part in the Berlinale this year). For that project, we were working side by side with seasoned writer Gennady Ostrovsky (known for his work with director Pavel Lungin) and director/producer Bakhtier Khudoynazarov.

I really liked Alisa’s new script, Suleiman Mountain. In film and in theatre some stories can be borderline bad taste, almost too much, and a love triangle is one of them. Particularly if it involves an older and a younger woman, and a man who comes across as a petty tyrant that the women have to fight for.

I thought the idea of transporting this storyline to a different ethnic background was brilliant, with the exotic realities (a real mountain, the practice of having a ‘senior’ and a ‘junior’ wife) and the myths (the healing powers of the mountain) adding a special flavour to the mix. The passionate and explosive relations of the main characters as defined by the realities of Kyrgyz culture and everyday life looked great even on paper.

I spent a long time planning to turn ‘Suleiman Mountain’ into a producer’s debut. Masha Yakubova had worked with Elizaveta Stishova on her short film ‘The Seagull’, and between them they knew more about how to film in Kyrgyzstan than I did. They secured a POV grant for the project, along with a lab at Black Nights, and brought in Tudor Panduru as Director of Photography.

Nevertheless, the project turned out to be immensely challenging. It’s the debut film of a Russian director, using exclusively Kyrgyz narratives and language and without any support from state funds. Given the creative concept, the expeditions, the anamorphotic optics, the film was far from low-budget. My partners from other projects Andrey Devyatkin and Viktor Kuznetsov liked ‘The Seagull’, Elizaveta Stishova and ‘Suleiman Mountain’. And so that’s how the film was born.

A mix of cultures stirred by a Russian creative impulse (writing and directing) turned into a dynamic and in many ways incredibly contemporary film”.

Elizaveta Stishova, director

“On the banks of Lake Issyk-Kul, a little boy covered in mud, alone, happy and occasionally angry, would hang around with us on the set. His mother would ring a bell to call the local children for their school lessons in the small single-storey high-school on the river.

“She didn’t pay much attention to her son. He roamed free with the cows, rams and camels. Only in the evenings would she come out to the riverbank and shout at the top of her lungs: “Uluuuuk!”

“Her call sounded more like the howling of a mother camel separated from her calf. 
“Despite the apparent silliness of this daily ritual, set against such a monumental landscape, the lonely figure of a woman calling for her son took on a tragic air.

“This scene inspired our work on “Suleiman Mountain”. The objects and characters were altered, but the images of Issyk-Kul Lake remained unchanged. Tragedy and comedy are deeply interconnected in Kyrgyzstan, in the hearts and minds of its people, and separated by a thin, almost imperceptible line.”

An ethnic twist to a universal story

The film tells the story of the complex relations within a family that exists in a culture where the ancient practice of taking multiple wives is perceived as natural, which leads to dramatic emotional tension. The story is intertwined with the contemporary everyday life of a people that passionately engages in and celebrates ancient customs which can be traced back in the times when the Kyrgyz were nomads. Why Kyrgyzstan? Why such an exotic setting for such a universal story about a love triangle? The producer’s flair and subtle sensibility and the scriptwriters’ unique vision are complemented by the director’s strikingly poignant feel for the environment in which the film is set.

A country stuck between the past and the present

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan reverted to the traditional ways of life, with Sunni Muslim and pagan customs and their native language making a comeback. The film is set against the backdrop of the final collapse of the Soviet Union and its cruel aftermath. Traces of the past can still be found in the interior design of the orphanage and in the traditional songs, but that world is no longer a part of today’s Kyrgyzstan. The young director manages to capture the remarkable moment when old traditions, such as shamanism and the practice of taking two, if not three wives, actually coexist with a relatively modern world in an almost documentary manner. The dilapidated old truck rolling past a billboard advertising high-speed internet in the middle of nowhere doesn’t feel out of place in the same frame. The country’s Soviet past has finally been left behind: the kids no longer know the songs about the war off by heart, and there’s no point looking for spare parts for an East German built truck. Central Asia has finally regained its identity, shaking off Russian influence and restoring its old customs.

Magic mountains

Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia, in the Western and Central parts of the Tien Shan Mountain range. Suleiman Mountain can be found close by to the town of Osh, and is a UNESCO heritage site.


Karabas (Asset Imangaliev) is a difficult man: a hard-gambling, hard-drinking, child-in-a-man’s body who puts only himself first in his family. When his wife #1, Zhipara (Perizat Ermanbetova), calls to tell him she has found their long-lost son, Uluk (Daniel Dayrbekov), Karabas rushes to her, much to the dismay of his much younger, pregnant wife #2, Turganbyubyu (Turgunai Erkinbekova).

Soon the new family dynamics are stretched past their limits, and Karabas is caught between his old ways and the two women bearing his sons: one re-born and one yet to come.

Now this unusual family must decide if they are to co-exist or tear each other apart as old wounds are ripped open and deception becomes the rule of the day.

Shot on location in and around the mystic World Heritage Site of the Suleiman Mountain in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, SULEIMAN MOUNTAIN tells the coming of age story of a grown man who must first lose love in order to find it.


“We are coming close to the year 1937.” The award money for the film will be given to the political prisoners

Speaking to Radio Svoboda, Elizaveta Stishova told more about her decision to hand the award money to the relatives of Oleg Sentsov and Kirill Serebrennikov:

– When did you decide that in case you obtain an award, you would give it to the relatives of Sentsov and Serebrennikov? Why did you decide to do this?

– I did not plan it. We just live in this space for a long time, in the world of Serebrennikov and Sentsov. We speak about them all the time. I have though a lot about these old people, their parents. We did not expect to get a prize on this festival so everything was purely accidental.

– What is the material content of this award?

– 15 thousand dollars.

– Are you acquainted with some of the relatives of Sentsov or Serebrennikov?

– No, I am not. It is easier with Serebrennikov because I know people who work in his theatre. They contacted his parents during the trial. I don’t know anyone from Sentsov’s family. But I will find them. We know a lot of people – they would help us somehow to reach his mother.

09 July 2018, Мark Krutov, Radio Svoboda

Enlivened by offbeat humour and vibrant widescreen images reflecting the rugged beauty of this wild Central Asian nation, SULEIMAN’S MOUNTAIN is the first feature from Russian filmmaker Elizaveta Stishova. In a drama fraught with tense uncertainty and often brutal rituals involving folklore and shamanism – a scene involving an unconscious woman is particularly alarming – Kyrgyzstan emerges as a region caught between the modern world and one of ancient traditions where women – predictably – get a rough deal as they compete vehemently for the attention of self-seeking macho men, in the hope that somehow, by smothering them with love and attention, they can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sadly, twas ever thus… [ to be continued]

As the title rightly suggests, location has a major role to play. Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country lodged between Kazakhstan and China, caught between the old Soviet system of the past and an impoverished present that has not yet caught up to a market economy. Underlying all this is an unforgotten ancient culture that the filmmakers approach respectfully. Filmed around the sacred Suleiman Mountain (now a World Heritage Site), the story carries mystical-religious vibes that subtly build to a moving climax. Happily, Alisa Khmelnitskaya’s screenplay carries this baggage lightly, making it the background to the gritty realism of a squabbling family who live on the road. There are no great, soaring emotions here, which may curb audience interest a bit, but it’s a sensitive film full of twists that leads the viewer deep into the lives of its gypsy-like outsiders. Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter

Although Kyrgyzstan initially feels exotic and remote, the human story at its core is as old and universal as the hills. Stishova has certainly made a watchable and lively debut. Filmuforia

Suleiman Mountain is the debut feature of Russian director Elizaveta Stishova, who establishes herself as a master of texturing comedy and drama. Kyrgyz culture is woven brilliantly throughout with reference to the nation’s revered epic poem Manas, and the traditional cultures and customs of the countryside. Audiences will find themselves along on a claustrophobic and sometimes paranoid journey, where every turn is unknown and every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Dimiyri Eipides, TIFF

Complicating matters, however, is the presence of a pregnant new young wife and doubts as to whether or not Uluk really is Karabas’s son. Shishova eschews the merely anthropological for a darkly comic family drama. And yet for me towards the end, the film loses its balance and plunges towards an overly melodramatic conclusion. John Bleasdale, BFI

To nasze pierwsze nagrody!” – mówi Stishova, nawet nie usiłując ukryć ekscytacji. „Byłam bardzo ciekawa tego miejsca, bo cały festiwal wybudowano właściwie od zera. No i chciałam przekonać się, jak chińscy widzowie zareagują na mój film. Zależało mi na tym, żeby każdy z bohaterów był tu jednakowo ważny, dlatego w Suleiman Mountain nie ma zbyt wielu ujęć pokazujących krajobrazy. Postanowiłam skupić się na ich twarzach.” W tym tej należącej do debiutanta Daniela Daiyrbekova. „W Kirgistanie jest wiele przebojowych dzieci, ale chciałam znaleźć kogoś, kto by się wyróżniał. Ten chłopczyk wyglądał jak starzec. Miał ciekawą twarz, ale nie potrafił grać. Poprosił mnie jednak, żeby dać mu szansę i szybko nauczył się pracy przed kamerą” – dodaje. Pol Zartem

¿Qué cosas estabas buscando en el casting de Karabas?
Estaba buscando a alguien feo, estaba buscando a alguien como Harvey Weinstein, ¿viste? Alguien por el estilo pero con más poder de hombre, estaba buscando poder de hombre. Pero después en Kyrgyzstan, había caras interesantes y caras lindas pero no encontré este poder de hombre. Entonces supimos de esta persona en Kazajistán y fuimos a hacer el casting ahí, y cuando lo conocí entendí que tenía algo, que era alguien a quien le gustaba mirar sus propias fotos, mostrárselas a todos, y ahí pensé esto puede ser, él lo puede hacer.

Las dos películas ganadoras del Festival están dirigidas por mujeres, ¿creés que las mujeres están ganando espacio en la industria?
Creo que sí. En general las mujeres no tenemos la misma presión de generar dinero que tienen los hombres, entonces podemos abocarnos más al cine, los hombres están trabajando más en series que les dan estabilidad y plata.

Santiago Bazán, Indiehoy

“Suleiman” is the feature debut of Elizaveta Stishova, a Russian helmer who returned to the rugged Central Asian nation where she lensed a short film and worked as first A.D. on Sadyk Sher-Niyaz’s 2014 historical epic “Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains.” Their journey takes audiences into a colorful world of folk traditions and shamanistic rituals, offering a rare big-screen spotlight for Kyrgyzstan. Shooting in the Central Asian nation proved to be a challenge for the Moscow-born helmer who had to hustle to bring pic to completion.

By Christopher Vourlias, Variety

The Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival closed its first edition Saturday with prizes for winners of its international and Chinese sections… “Suleiman Mountain,” directed by Elizaveta Stishova, collected the Roberto Rossellini prize worth $10,000 for the director’s next film. The jury praised the picture for its “incredible” female characters.
Audience awards went to “Suleiman Mountain,” Ficarra & Picone’s “L’Ora Legale” (Italy), Aida Begic’s “Never Leave Me” (Bosnia/Turkey), Peng Xiaolian’s “Please Remember Me” (China), Ana Urushadze’s “Scary Mother” (Georgia/Estonia) and Peng Fei’s “The Taste of Rice Flower” (China).

By Patrick Frater, Variety