ABOUT THE PROJECT
The aim of the project is to present, by means of documentary film and an exhibition, an "insider’s view" of the ancient Sufi dervish tradition in Central Asia.
The Sufi dervish tradition is seldom accessible to outsiders, and one usually only hears about it in stories. In the Middle Ages, the Sufi tradition lay at the very heart of Islamic mysticism, but little is known about Central Asian Sufi dervishes of modern times.
The authors of this project undertook an extensive expedition to Kazakhstan, met with numerous Kazakh healers, consulted ethnologists and researchers of folklore. This research led them to Bifatima, whom many of the specialists consider probably the last guardian of the Sufi dervish tradition in the region. In Kazakhstan, she is often called "the last bullet". Bifatima almost always refuses contacts with journalists and avoids being photographed or filmed. The authors were, however, able to win her trust by trying to enter her world and see it from the inside. Olesya Bondareva visited Bifatima regularly over a period of one and a half years. During this time she went through a number of ceremonies and initiation rites, took a Sufi name, observed all the rules of the place, and followed the required way of life.
During her lengthy stays with Bifatima, Olesya had the opportunity to photograph and film rarely seen shamanistic ceremonies and scenes of the Sufi way of life at the dervish’s house. In the autumn of 2008 Mauri Pasanen joined Olesya in Kazakhstan and spent three weeks with Bifatima. During this visit he too was initiated into Kazakh customs and rituals, and made a journey to the south of Kazakhstan in Bifatima’s company. In the course of this journey Olesya and Mauri shot unique footage of Sufi rituals and shrines.
As a first phase of the project, an exhibition of photos and video entitled "The Last Dervish of Kazakhstan" was presented at Galerie Eurasia in Brussels, Belgium (February 2009). This exhibition will also travel to other European cities. Times and places will be announced on this web site. The exhibition photos and video can be viewed also on this website. The project will continue with a feature length documentary on the dervish Bifatima as well as a short documentary about Kumalak, an ancient Kazakh divination method.