A film drama telling the story of a standoff between residents of a bucolic village in Kyrgyzstan and a Chinese mining company despoiling the countryside is being kept off the country’s cinema screens by the security services.
But the producers of Meken, directed by Medetbek Jalilov, have now said they will instead upload the movie to the internet and make it freely available.
As Jalilov has said in media interviews, Meken was supposed to be released in January, but a state movie commission, which he said includes representatives of the presidential administration and the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, demanded the removal of scenes showing "corruption and bribery" by government officials.
“No Russian film has ever been made to submit to such verifications. And this is a fictional movie after all,” Jalilov told news website Kaktus in an interview published on July 27.
The producers actually submitted to the requests of state censors and filmed new scenes to replaces the offending segments, but still permission to release the picture in cinemas has been withheld.
The film is now to be made available on the production company's YouTube channel, free of charge for viewing, from July 31. Producers will provide bank details for anybody wishing to help them recoup the $100,000 they borrowed and then spent on making the movie.
The presidential administration denied when asked by Eurasianet for comment that they were involved in the film commission that thwarted Meken’s release. The GKNB did not respond to requests for comment and clarification.
The Culture Ministry, meanwhile, has said that it is open to exploring ways in which Meken could be released.
“We will speak with the production team. Before, when the state commission reviewed the movie, there were details that could not be shown to the public. We advised that these be remedied, but the Culture Ministry itself is not opposed to the film being shown,” a ministry spokesperson told Eurasianet.
The Culture Ministry demurred when asked to specify what content could not be shown to the public.
Meken, which was filmed in October in the Grigorievsky gorge, on the northern shores of the Issyk-Kul lake, was inspired by many incidents in which local communities across Kyrgyzstan have clashed with foreign companies working on mining projects.
One recent such episode occurred on August 5, 2019, when hundreds of people stormed the Solton-Sary goldmine in the Naryn province, which was being developed at the time by China’s state-owned Zhong Ji company. The local community blamed the company’s activities for an alleged downturn in health standards and the death of livestock. Authorities later fined the company 500,000 som (around $7,100 at the time) for failing to comply with environmental standards.
Several small- or mid-sized mines in Kyrgyzstan are similarly operated by Chinese companies, and it is likely this fact that has made the authorities so uncomfortable. By openly making the antagonists Chinese, the filmmakers may, in the view of officials, strain the goodwill of one of the few investor nations willing to endure Kyrgyzstan’s rampant corruption and generally poor business environment.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.