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Interview: Maria Brendle Talks ‘Ala Kachuu’ and Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan

As the 94th Academy Awards approaches, one of the most impactful films to be feted as a nominee is also one of the shortest. Maria Brendle’s Ala Kachuu – Take and Run is an eye-opening account of the real-life practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan and is deservedly nominated for Best Live Action Short Film. Through Brendle’s immersive approach to storytelling, she takes us on a young woman’s nightmarish journey as her academic dreams are sidelined when she becomes a kidnapping victim. Recently, Awards Radar spoke with Brendle about the genesis of this story and her collaborative approach to making the film in order to bring awareness to this topic.

Shane Slater: How did you learn about this cultural practice and what motivated you to make a film about it?

Maria Brendle: I heard about bride kidnapping when a friend of mine traveled through Kyrgyzstan. He came back and told me about his experience in this journey and told me about bride kidnapping. I was shocked, because I never heard about that. And I started to research and I learned that there are so many victims in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia and also parts of Africa. And nobody knows about it.

For me, it was not enough to just be upset, I really wanted to do something. So as a filmmaker, I have something like a power because film is like a peaceful weapon. And I knew when I can make a film about that topic and create awareness, this little part, I can do something. I really wanted to create awareness that there are so many girls and young women victims in this world through traditions like bride kidnapping and marriage by force.

SS: I read that you have a background in journalism. Was there ever any consideration given to making a documentary version of this? Or did you always have an idea of the narrative you wanted to tell?

MB: At the very beginning, it was on my mind. How can I do a film in such a different country and culture? Because I thought, it’s a huge thing, finding help and finding money to do such a film. And I thought about documentary or even animation, because I thought it could be impossible to shoot a film in a country like Kyrgyzstan. But when I did some research, I knew I wanted to create an emotional experience. I don’t want to just talk to women talking about their experience. I wanted to write a script that makes the audience come into the emotion of a bride kidnapping moment. So it was clear to me that I wanted to write a script. And it’s based on true events from women who told me their experience, and from moments I saw while I did my research.

SS: The women characters are so essential to this story, both in how they resist and uphold this tradition. As someone coming from an outsider’s perspective, how did you approach crafting these characters, and making sure that it was authentic?

MB: When I was in Kyrgyzstan for the research, I was in a women’s shelter and I talked to victims. And I asked one woman, “What do you want from me for this film?” And she said, “I want you to make a strong main character who is a role model for for young girls. She has to be strong.” And so this is when I thought about the ending of this film, because in the real world, a lot of girls commit suicide. And of course, I had the idea that maybe she would commit suicide at the end.

But I listened to that woman and it was very important for me to make this film with Kyrgyz women and not only by myself. They allowed me to come into their culture and they taught me everything about this tradition. I had many women on my side talking about the topic when I was writing my script. And together we made sure that it’s authentic.

SS: The film shows a divide between the more forward-thinking urban lifestyle and the more traditional rural life. Did you notice a difference in the atmosphere and how you interacted with people in these different locations?

MB: It was a huge difference between the city, the capital Bishkek and the parts we shot in the area of Kochkor. But it was important for me that the bride kidnapping in the film happens in the capital Bishkek, because this is also happening there. It’s not only a thing that happens in the countryside. It’s also happening in this big city, Bishkek. So I wrote it in the script that it happens in in the city, because it’s important to know that it could happen everywhere.

SS: Was there anything especially surprising to you, as you researched and learned about this practice?

MB: A lot of things were surprising. Every day, a lot of things happened. For me, coming from Europe, it was a huge thing to learn that it’s kind of a normal thing here. I was shocked. So I had to change my mind about it. And for me, as a European woman, it was also strange that men didn’t talk to me, or they shake hands with the men, but they don’t say hello to me.

The greatest gift was the whole crew. At the end, we were one unit. So it didn’t really matter if it was a man or woman, we came together. We brought something from Europe to them, and they taught us that you will have to act in another role as a woman. So it was really interesting. And after this whole time we spent together, we found something that brought us together. It was amazing.

SS: Did you receive any memorable feedback from women in Kyrgyzstan about the film?

MB: Yes. After the premiere, a Kyrgyz woman told me this film could have been made by a Kyrgyz woman. So I was so happy about that, because it was so important to me to be authentic. And I think it’s because were a team. So now I’m sitting here, but there should be so many women behind me, because they always help me. And the actors helped me a lot. We made this film together.

There were a lot of great, amazing, powerful women who helped me and wanted to create awareness of this topic in in other countries. It is normal there, everyone knows about bribe kidnapping. Ala Kachuu is the Kyrgyz word for bride kidnapping. They were very open and interested in bringing this topic out to the world.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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