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Azerbaijan 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: ALI AND NINO

Ali and Nino, a story among the most beloved in the literary canon of Azerbaijan and widely considered the country's national novel, was recently made into a feature film.

Taking place around 1917-1918, Ali and Nino is an endearing love story between an aristocrat from Azerbaijan and a Georgian princess. Ali is from a well-respected Muslim family and Nino is raised in a more European setting in a Christian tradition. Most of the story is set in Baku and throughout the regions of Azerbaijan. The relationship between Ali and Nino is particularly special due to its practical improbability. The cultural and religious differences between the two of them cause problems and are seen as a major obstacle to their life of togetherness, alongside the eventual national turmoil caused by the Red Army. Ali and Nino is essentially a story of love facing various obstacles, a powerful and popular motif often seen in other classics. Many consider this book to be so well received in Azerbaijan and the region because it is seen as correctly and expressively capturing the depth of the Caucasian experience during the pre-Soviet period in history. The beauty of the story has translated into massive international success as well, with the novel published in over 30 languages and sold all over the world. Even the novel itself has an interesting history. It was first published in 1937 in Austria, in German, under the pseudonym Kurban Said. The actual author is under continual debate and speculation, creating an almost mythical allure to the story.

The 2016 film adaptation of the novel has strong direction; its script was written by Oscar winner Christopher Hampton and it was directed by Oscar-nominated documentarian Asif Kapadia. The main roles are played by Palestinian actor Adam Bakri as Ali, and Spain's own Maria Valverde as Nino. The film also features the famous American actor Mandy Patinkin as Nino's father, and many others. Ali and Nino was invited to stage its world premiere at the internationally renowned Sundance Film Festival, which takes place in the US every year at the end of January and is the largest independent film festival in the country. Adding to the star-studded caliber of the event, the executive producer of the film is Vice President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of President Ilham Aliyev. The film was one of the most anticipated premieres at Sundance, due to the popularity of the story throughout the world and the impressive list of collaborators and actors.
The locations used and visual scenery of the film is said to be nothing short of breathtaking, displaying the vast beauty of the many different landscapes throughout Azerbaijan and parts of Turkey. Shooting locations in Azerbaijan include the historic Icherisheher (Old City), Gobustan, Khynalyg, and many different areas of Baku. The impressive cinematography and visually-stunning locations have prompted praise from many different critics, claiming that the beautiful landscapes portrayed in this film are rarely seen among most Western cinematic productions.

The release of Ali and Nino comes at an interesting time as well, as President Ilham Aliyev declared 2016 as the Year of Multiculturalism. Many of the ideals perpetuated in this story are still relevant to today's Azerbaijan, and the story of Ali and Nino serves as a microcosm of the multicultural ideals that are built into the country. The two main characters are both members of separate religions, displaying the historic aspect of religious diversity in the region. Numerous instances of culture clash litter the plot of the novel and film as well. In addition, the President alluded to how Azerbaijan must remain true to its internal ideals amidst widespread global strife and economic discomfort. This film essentially breathes life into the multicultural reality of living in Azerbaijan during that era.

Ali and Nino comes in a busy year of filmmaking in the country as well, as this was the same year that the short film Torn became the first film from Azerbaijan to be featured at the esteemed Cannes Film Festival in France. These two films will hopefully encourage more initiatives in Azerbaijani cinema in the future.