Top 5 internationally represented Azerbaijani female filmmakers

Director Rufat Hasanov presents top 5 local female filmmakers represented in international film industry and their films.

Leyli Gafarova – Director
“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”
(IDFA Official Selection)

Welcome to Shanghai. No, not the Chinese megalopolis full of neon and nouveaux riches, but precisely the opposite: an eponymous slum in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. In the distance, skyscrapers built with oil money tower above the city, but here dilapidated houses are packed along a single railway line. The slum is scheduled for demolition, and now and again a child is killed by one of the freight trains slowly chugging by. When the German director Veit Helmer arrives in Shanghai to make a feature film, feelings quickly run high. The locals are afraid that he wants to make them look ridiculous. The young Azerbaijani filmmaker Leyli Gafarova succeeds however in gaining the inhabitants’ trust and films a choppy, playful portrait of Shanghai in the margins of the feature film production. In the guise of a making-of, she shows intimate fragments of life in the slum, while it’s still standing.

Lala Aliyeva – Director
“They Whisper But Sometimes Scream”
(Visions du Réel Official Selection)

In the north of Azerbaijan, at a lakeside sanctuary: three trees are adorned with fabrics woven by the women residing in the neighbouring village, who would come to ward off their sorrows by making nature their ally. With poignant gentleness, Lala Aliyeva’s camera brings back to life this mirror-like place where women, in the past, were released, at least spiritually from their harsh condition.

Tahmina Rafaella – Director, Screenwriter, Producer, Actress
“A Woman”
(Palm Springs Official Selection & Sundance)

A young, modern mother struggles to find her place in Baku, Azerbaijan, a culture simultaneously Muslim and secular, progressive as it is traditional, and like her at a crossroads of seeming contradictions. Navigating the trappings of both conventional and modern female roles, she straddles the space between choice and responsibility where in the course of one day she can be a mother, a daughter, a wife, and still be herself.

Sitara İbrahimbayli – Production designer
“End of Season” by Elmar Imanov
(Rotterdam Film Festival FIPRESCI Award Winner)

A small family in Azerbaijan is on the brink of running its course. Son Machmud feverishly seeks a home of his own; mother Fidan wants her life back after years of service to the family; father Samir just wants to be left alone. Three free spirits orbiting each other, ignoring the annoyances as much as possible. However, a dramatic incident during a trip to the beach painfully highlights the hairline fractures in their existence.

Rahima Hajiyeva – Line Producer
“Towards Evening”
(Semaine de la Critique du Festival de Cannes)


A couple for whom physical proximity doesn’t mean spiritual closeness at all, make their way to a family event outside the city ; a disagreement over a mundane issue forces them to stop, yielding an unexpected yet predictable discovery.

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