Interview with Rufat Hasanov, Head of the Audiovisual and Interactive Media Department, Ministry for Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
At the end of April, the Cinema Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan was established. This new organisation aims to improve Azerbaijan’s position and make it more accessible to the international film industry. We had a chance to chat with Rufat Hasanov, an acclaimed, award-winning filmmaker, and head of the Audiovisual and Interactive Media Department at the Ministry for Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan, who offered us some insights into the new endeavour.
Cineuropa: What are the main objectives of the newly established Cinema Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and what differences will there be compared to how things were previously in the country?
Rufat Hasanov: In recent years, the Azerbaijani cinema landscape has witnessed the rapid emergence of young talent, delivering films that have been selected or awarded at major film festivals, such as Cannes, Venice, Rotterdam, Locarno, Busan and Sarajevo. Nevertheless, the state film-funding policy didn’t quite allow us to tap into this potential, with the Ministry for Culture having been the only source of financing for cinema in Azerbaijan. There was an apparent need for the implementation of new operational models and solutions, which would encourage the expression of national culture through the audiovisual medium as well as stimulate participation in international, collaborative projects. Thus, the presidential decree establishing ARKA (the Cinema Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan) on 20 April 2022 truly marks the beginning of a new era for Azerbaijani cinema.
How similar is the new institution to the format of a film centre?
Like any given film centre, ARKA will implement the state policy on cinema, including financial support for film production, as well as the distribution and promotion of Azerbaijani films both domestically and worldwide.
How will the Cinema Agency support local productions, and what are the first steps it is taking in this direction?
ARKA will provide a range of strategic funding mechanisms to support industry professionals via development, production, post-production and distribution funding programmes, as well as skill-development initiatives and international co-production opportunities in the audiovisual sector including, but not limited to, live action (including debut films), animation, documentary and TV series. Subsidies will be granted for projects selected on a competitive basis (via open calls and pitching sessions) by a Creative Expert Committee, with a focus on creativity, ambition, inclusion, transparency and sustainability.
Given that the international audience always takes an interest in new collaborations, does Azerbaijan already offer any initiatives related to international productions?
One of the most successful initiatives within the general framework of the new reforms launched by the Ministry for Culture was the launch of “Filming Azerbaijan” – the Azerbaijani Film Commission – in January 2021. Within a short period of time, we managed to make a good effort to position ourselves as a unique production location attracting a wide range of projects from Netflix and Disney+ to regional and international productions.
Why is Azerbaijan an attractive filming destination, and what is your plan regarding positioning the country within the broader film industry?
With its logistical convenience (ie, six international airports), climate conditions (incorporating nine out of 11 climate zones), combination of exquisite ancient and hyper-modern architecture, dramatic mountain scenery and the Caspian Sea coastline, Azerbaijan offers a wide range of cinematic backdrops and all within a relatively small distance from each other. We are consulting with several governmental institutions to introduce a rebate system in the foreseeable future. We also hope that the establishment of ARKA will speed up the process of our long-awaited Eurimages membership, which will undoubtedly create new opportunities for international co-productions and integration into a broader audiovisual context.