"Middle World": The first full-length Yakutian film as a decolonial project
Eva Ivanilova
Is a camera in the hands of one or two people capable of embodying the imagination of the people? One of the episodes of the first full-length Yakut film "The Middle World" insists that this is real. The long scene with the prayers of the white priest (the main figure at the Ysyakh festival) is replaced by a frame drawn with vertical lines: in the foreground — the hands of the celebrants raised to the sky; in the second — two ritual pillars, in the far — electric poles and panels, between which a bright solar disk is squeezed. By this point, the audience was led by slow horizontal wiring and smooth zooms, so it is impossible to predict sudden movements. But suddenly the camera flies away from the panels at such a speed that they merge with the horizon and the meditative rhythm jumps from something elusive. This moment takes two seconds of more than two hours of timekeeping, but embodies the whole worldview: the permeability of time, the community of small and large spaces.

The main line of the film is a story about traditional Yakut life on the example of a collective image of a young Yakut. He comes to the middle world and gradually finds himself: he learns crafts, finds a common language with nature, starts a family.

Each of these stages is shown either through detailed reconstructions (from traditional childbirth in a winter booth to the ritual of dissection of a shaman), or documentary footage. The first full-length Yakut film is the first screen embodiment of the Yakut epic Olonkho, the genre nature of which is precisely in the parallel development of the plots. All levels of this picture are built on parallelism: a mare brings a foal; a woman gives birth to a baby; the universe, vast as the Taiga, feeds the Yakut people. The allegory continues in the report, the voice-over text by Anatoly Nikolaev and the direction by Alexey Romanov reinforce each other.
Largely due to the sensual voiceover monologue "The Middle World" - a movie in which the Yakut identity is framed as a personal experience. According to the classic of cultural studies Stuart Hall, identity is not reducible to a specific image or code through which a group and its individual participant conceptualize themselves. Identity is an endless search for the end result; not the answer to the question "who are we?”, and the process of formulating this answer. Perhaps the initial emphasis on the articulation of identity — a process that cannot be completed - gave Yakut cinema a recipe for longevity. In a global context, it can be understood as part of the "fourth cinema" (Maori director Barry Barclay referred to the "fourth cinema" films, among the key authors of which there was at least one representative of the indigenous people) and meaningfully as a decolonization project.
Colonial discourse as part of Western modernism is inextricably linked with the gradual transformation of group and personal memory into a form of capital. One of the justifications of the European colonial campaigns that began at the end of the 15th century was the inability and inability to recognize the rights of the colonized peoples to historical independence. In the eyes of the colonizers, the past of the colonized peoples, not recorded in block letters and visual techniques (like perspective), looked primitive, and therefore in need of control. The memory of oneself, prescribed as a universal universal, became the basis for the subordination of the forgetful and rootless aborigines who inhabited terra nullius — lands that, by European legal standards, did not belong to anyone. Western visual art was very early reduced to the task of reproducing reality. In the 19th century, the camera took this function away from painting and very soon established a monopoly on the production of truth. With the advent of photography and cinema, colonial thinking began to depend on visual media no less than on maps and newspapers. The pioneers of cinema - from cameramen working for the Lumiere brothers to Robert Flaherty and Dziga Vertov - went to document the truth about non-European peoples, and ethnographic reports became one of the most popular spectacles on the screens.
The first attempts to undermine the colonial visual code also began on the territory of ethnographic cinema. In the 1950s, Jean Rouche, one of the founders of the French cinema verité, began filming documentary films in collaboration with the first Nigerian cinematographers. In the 1960s, American artist and anthropologist Saul Worth and his colleague John Adair took a step even further. With a grant from the US National Science Foundation, they gathered a group of Navajo Native Americans and handed them movie cameras to find out how and what they would shoot. The result of the Navajo Film Themselves project was an almanac of indigenous films about Navajo rituals and gods, and its participants described their method as shooting a self-portrait. Conceptualizing their work, Worth and Adair proposed the term "bio-documentalism", that is, a subjective way to show what is experienced as objective reality. According to Worth and Adair, bio-documentary cinema does not need Western cinematography and specialization of labor and can be created by a person who has picked up a camera for the first time. In such a movie, speech and gaze do not belong to the illusionist or the technician, but to someone who is trying to express a phenomenological experience with the help of a camera and intuitive ideas about what to do with it.
A similar project was carried out in Russia. In 1991, anthropologists Asen Baliksi and Mark Badger and their colleagues from Moscow State University and the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences organized a seminar on visual anthropology in the village of Kazym, Khanty-Mansiysk district. Six Khanty, two Nenets and two Yakuts studied methods of observational shooting, watched and discussed ethnographic films under the guidance of university anthropologists. Like the Worth-Adair experiment, the Kazym seminar was innovative in the field of visual anthropology (and the first focused on the peoples of the Russian north), but at the same time remained a paternalistic project. University anthropologists taught representatives of indigenous peoples to shoot, even if doing everything so that the process was two-way. Is it possible to compare these projects with the Soviet film classification of Yakutia? Yes, early Soviet cinema ethnography (from the 19th edition of Kinopravda to Alexander Litvinov's film Yakutia, 1940) portrayed indigenous peoples as backward cultures transformed under socialism. But having nationalized cinematography in the 1920s, the Soviets attracted many Yakuts to the courses of projectionists, handing the cameras into the hands of aborigines (this is the terminology used by anthropologist Worth in the 1960s, and in the Decree of the Presidium of the YCIK of November 19, 1928). Worth, Adair, Balixi, Badger and other visual anthropologists devoted their participants to the peculiarities of anthropological cinema, so that they could shoot whatever they wanted. Soviet cinematography, partially aligned with the policy of "indigenization" (the promotion of national identities through quotas for the number of seats in government agencies and the promotion of national languages), also created a previously non-existent field of visual self-expression. Of course, there were differences in the limits imposed on this self-expression. Soviet film classifiers knew in advance what they wanted to give to newly consecrated cinematographers and what to get from them. Yes, in the post-war years, the "fourth cinema" appeared in the USSR. An obvious Soviet example is a series of works by Yuri Nitochkin, shot in collaboration with the Chukchi writer Yuri Rytkheu in the 1970s and early 1980s. Indigenous cinema without the admixture of Soviet conventions appeared in Russia only by the end of the 1980s.
Despite the fact that many Yakuts worked in the USSR film industry, not a single film immediately shot in the Sakha language appeared until the end of the 1980s. Nevertheless, it was the Soviet institutions that prepared the material and personnel base for the birth of modern Yakut cinema. Without the direct support of the former head of the film industry of the Sakha Republic, Ivan Zharaev, who was once the first Yakut to graduate from the Leningrad Institute of Film Engineers, the "Middle World" might not have happened. Work on this picture began at the Sverdlovsk film Studio in 1989, continued at Mosfilm and ended on the basis of the first Yakut film company "Sakhafilm". The titles of the championship of the film can not be counted: the first Yakut full meter, shot by the first professional Yakut director, whose debut (VGIK diploma "Maappa") was the first film immediately shot in the Yakut language. The Soviet system turned out to be an anthropological seminar with a delayed result: only after its collapse did small nations have the will to shoot about their own. In the case of the Yakut cinema, this will was literally converted into resources that replaced the stopped state financing. In particular, the "Middle World" was filmed with the money of the population of the republic, who invested in a specially open shooting fund.
On the one hand, the Yakut cinema is a consequence of the global colonial history (if only because it also claims its autonomy due to the capitalization of the past), on the other hand, it is a consequence of the Soviet national and film policy. At the same time, in the genealogy of Yakut cinema there is a share of chance and conscious autonomization, which turned an independent language and original production methods against various colonial narratives.

"The Middle World" is a self-portrait of a small people, created in response to other people's ideas about it. At the same time, there is no militant insurgent rhetoric that unites the cinematographies of the former European colonies. The decolonial protest of the "Middle World" and Yakut cinema in general is in the sensual rediscovery of the native, a strategy that the Colombian artist Adolfo Albana-Akinte proposed to call "re-existence” - the rejection of imposed knowledge about oneself and building one's existence anew. The narrator of the "Middle World” directly calls the viewer: "Remember how you bring ice from the river, chop it, put it on the stove to get water for drinking. Remember your dear mother, how she brings frozen berries from the barn and mixes them with cream." Instead of arguing with someone else, Alexey Romanov's film searches for the native, freeing it from the yoke of progressive ideas.