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still from Aral, Fishing in an Invisible Sea (Carlos Casas & Saodat Ismailova, UZ/IT 2004)

Invisible Sea: The Aral Sea in Cinema

Eye on Art: Invisible Sea: The Aral Sea in Cinema

Throughout history, the Aral Sea has been a backdrop to and subject of films. The starting point for this programme is the documentary Aral. Fishing in an Invisible Sea (2004) by Carlos Casas and Saodat Ismailova, whose exhibition 18,000 Worlds is showing in Eye.

poster Saodat Ismailova  – 18,000 Worlds

For centuries, a freshwater lake hundreds of kilometres long stretched along the boundary between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan: the Aral Sea. But thanks to Soviet-era irrigation systems, from the 1960s on this huge lake rapidly dried out and became salinized. The implications for man and nature are enormous – the disappearance of the Aral Sea is seen as one of the biggest environmental disasters of our time.

Saodat Ismailova and Carlos Casas' documentary Aral. Fishing in an Invisible Sea (2004) is the central film of the evening. It focuses on three generations of fishermen, revealing the gradual change of human lives in the face of environmental degradation. Programmer Kseniia Bespalova will follow a similar structure highlighting films from three epochs that correspond to the three stages of Aral Sea desiccation. It starts with the abundant sea in the classic film The Fishers of Aral (Yuldash Agzamov, 1957); then, looks into the first cinematic representation of the disaster in the cult Perestroika film The Needle (Rashid Nugmanov, 1988); and, finally, arrives to the contemporary attempts to invent new ways of life in the new environmental conditions in Waiting for the Sea (George Itzhak, 2020) that follows the dance festival founded on the dried land.

After the selected fragments, we will screen the short aminated documentary Once there was a sea… (Joanna Kożuch, 2021) that moves away from the realistic representation of the disaster, focusing instead on memories and impressions of the sea as it used to be. The memories of the gone sea, the testimonies of the locals, and their hopes for the future is the main motive of all the films selected for the screening.

This evening is curated by independent film researcher Kseniia Bespalova, who is taking part in Eye’s training programme Programmers of the Future. Her interests include decolonial cinema from ex-Soviet states, environmental cinema, and the notions of land, border, and cosmopolitanism.

This programme is part of 18,000 Worlds. In this exhibition of installations and video works, Saodat Ismailova explores the invisible foundations of Central Asia. In doing so, she makes use of personal and collective memories, connects myths to the region’s recent history and investigates the healing effects of spiritual heritage.

Visit the exhibition page for the other public programming surrounding the exhibition and the screenings of Central Asian films selected by Saodat Ismailova. Some films specially selected for 18,000 Worlds can also be seen on the Eye Film Player.


This movie is suitable for all ages

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109 min.

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Eye on Art

Eye on Art is a programme on the intersection between film and other arts. Eye on Art keeps up with current events, with presentations on contemporary artists and programmes that coincide with important exhibitions, manifestations and Eye activities.

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still from Cloacinae Serge Onnen & Sverre Fredriksen, NL 2017)
still from Aral, Fishing in an Invisible Sea (Carlos Casas & Saodat Ismailova, UZ/IT 2004)
still from Aral, Fishing in an Invisible Sea (Carlos Casas & Saodat Ismailova, UZ/IT 2004)
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