Films, Kyrgyzstan

Home Alone in Kyrgyzstan

A touching story of a father and son separated

Still from Dastan Madalbekov's Son of the Sun (2022)

On Dec. 2nd, 2023, the international Alternativa Film Awards was held in Kazakhstan. From Nov. 27th to Dec. 4th, (EE) Films screened the film-winner in the short film category, the Kyrgyz film Son of the Sun (original title: Atasynynyn Balasy). It is an intimate story of Bakyt, a 10-year-old boy who bravely navigates his self-dependent life in the absence of his father while he is away earning a living. The film is accompanied by a short interview with the director Dastan Madalbekov.

We interviewed two hundred candidates for the lead role. Ulukbek charmed me with his natural calm and sincerity. We were looking for children between the ages of 10 and 1. During the interview, Ulukbek immediately told us that he was only 9 years and 10 months old and therefore didn't have much hope that he would get the part. But my heart told me otherwise. I was looking for a child who was able to forgive. A wise child, a “Son of his Father.” The original title of the movie ["Son of his Father" - ed.] sounds more profound in Russian than in English, so we have decided to play around with it and came up with the title Son of the Sun. 

In reality, there are more prototypes of my hero than one might assume. In Kyrgyzstan, unless we're talking about very wealthy families, one has to be resilient from a very early age. Hundreds of thousands of children grow up alone because their parents are working abroad. Kim Ki-duk—I was lucky enough to work as his assistant—told me that Kyrgyz cinema very often addresses the theme of childhood. Perhaps because children are the true modern heroes? 

The main character’s father was played by Daniyar Zhanzhigitov, an actor of the Kyrgyz Drama Theater named after T. Abdumomunov. As he only has daughters himself, it was a pleasure for him to wrestle with a boy in the final scene. For me, that fighting scene encapsulates the entire movie. We shot it very quickly, but even after rewatching it so many times I still feel it in my heart, because I myself never physically fought with my father. The thing is, in my culture, it's only in wrestling that a "real man, a real father" can show his feelings. 

In Kyrgyzstan, unless we're talking about very wealthy families, you have to be resilient from a very early age

Finding a location for my characters' home took a very long time. I imagined what kind of atmosphere I needed there, but I couldn't describe it in precise terms. None of the apartments that were available to us matched my vision and our budget didn't allow us to build a pavilion. At some point, I became really desperate and turned to prayer. I asked God to help me find the location. When I finished praying, I went for a walk near the market and saw a hotel-like building. There was a “for sale” sign hanging from one of the balconies. I went up there and knocked. An elderly woman opened the door. And then my heart jumped, my breath caught in my throat: I saw bare walls in front of me, a hat hanging on a nail, and from the windows I could see the same kind of house, the same square 2 x 2 box. Holding back my emotions, I asked how much they wanted, promised to call them back, and passed the number to the producer. The boy's demeanor in the house had to convey his independence, and in some way, his domesticity. After all, usually in such families it is the children who take on the role of a care-taker.

In the future, as well as right now, I would like to portray the present moment, to convey the anticipation of change. I would like to talk about how my people are changing, how a human is changing, how I change myself.

All tags
Dastan Madalbekov
Young director and scriptwriter born in 1995 in Talas, Kyrgyzstan. Dastan graduated from VGIK as a film director at the workshop of V. Menshov. His short "Son of the Sun" (2022) won the UNICEF Award at the Zinebi International Festival of Documentary and Short Films of Bilbao.