Art, whilst representing beauty and aesthetics, is also an important form of protest, to shape how we’d like our societies to be. Orxan Ata tells E&M about an exciting art movement, and the promise it holds for Azerbaijan: Salaam Cinema.

Salaam Cinema is a cinephile event that takes place Baku. It takes its name from the movie Salaam Cinema, by the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. His original idea was to make a film that celebrated the 100th anniversary of cinema, but after an initial casting call for 100 actors brought in nearly 5,000 actors to Tehran’s Ferdows Garden, the director decided to shape his film around these audition tapes. The final product is an innovative tribute to the possibilities of the cinematic medium and an astute evisceration of both the history and status quo of Iranian cinema. This was a film about cinema itself.

Therefore, Salaam Cinema in Baku aims to be an emblematic venue for creative movies, audio-visual pieces and the performing arts, offering a wide programme of exhibitions, workshops dedicated to equality, inclusion and celebrating diversity.

Another important mission of Salaam Cinema is to support local film-making and preserving cinematic history. The cinema’s audience get the chance to discover new Azerbaijani films and rediscover movies which have written Azerbaijani film history.

In keeping with this, the events from Salaam Cinema in Baku will take place in a beautiful historic Malokan prayer house built in 1913 – only recently discovered, we hope our regular programs will breathe new life into this old forgotten building.

Photo courtesy of Orxan Ata

What’s the main reason for the Salaam Cinema art protest

A historic Baku building that had recently been repurposed for an alternative cinema group has been slated for demolition, prompting a group of young activists to occupy the building.
The building, known as the Molokan Temple, was built in 1913 as a place of worship for Baku’s Molokans, who follow a branch of Russian Christianity. Under the Soviet Union the building was taken over by the state and Azerbaijan’s first radio station was founded there in 1926.

On May 6, during a documentary film workshop at the building, a group of city officials and workers arrived at the building and said they intended to tear it down, representatives of Salaam Cinema said.

Salaam Cinema is the most important cultural event that’s been happening in Azerbaijan for the last 5 days. It’s excited, stimulated and brought together all the artists of the city. To witness Baku’s artistic spirit flourish like this is not a luxury we have very often. Salaam Cinema’s founders deserve a big and loud thanks for this. They woke the artistic spirit of Baku up. This is enough to remember them as the architects of this epic event in the history of Azerbaijan’s culture.

Photo courtesy of Orxan Ata

They’ve created an atmosphere where people can easily express themselves. I myself did not feel out of place among those artists. There’s a constant interaction and you can always pick up and join them. Not only that, there’s also tea, water, coffee, food and fruits always being offered to people. Of course, all of this happens as a result of what the founders and the coordinators are doing. Visitors like me bring water and food as well or drop some funds in the donation box.

What to do to sustain this movement, and let this artistic wave keep on track and create the first wave of protest through which artists of Azerbaijan can express their art and consequently themselves? First of all, it has to be peaceful, like Salaam Cinema does in its own style.

Secondly, Salaam Cinema should not be politicised, and became tarnished with partisan divisions and divisive part rhetoric. Because in times like these, political manipulations is a common disease. We’ve seen protests that started beautifully and lost its value because of manipulations of that kind – be warned.

And lastly, there should be a calling to all the artists of this country. All of our national artists, retired ones, Eurovision singers and all the rest of them who are (un)popular in today’s Azerbaijan. Doesn’t matter who they are and what kind of art they’re creating. Because Salaam Cinema is everyone’s. Salam Cinema are doing a great thing and that’s exactly why they need equally great support. What’s happening here today will prepare the foundations and the concept for Azerbaijan’s cinema and culture for the next 20 years.

Cover photo courtesy of Orxan Ata

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    Orxan Ata is Azeri, originally from Baku. He is a graduate from the European Film College where he studied acting. After a brief period in Denmark, he went on to film his own projects in Texas, San Antonio, and afterwards decided to return to Baku to collaborate with local filmmakers. He is currently travelling in Eastern Europe, trying to find new artists and learn about their culture and lifestyle.

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