TASHKENT -- Movie theatres across Uzbekistan in January began screening of "Tutkunlik" ("Captivity"), which depicts the recruitment of Uzbek citizens by extremists and their lives in Middle Eastern war zones.
Based on real events, the film was produced by Uzbekkino (Uzbek Cinema) with the support of the State Security Service (SGB). Rashid Malikov directed it.
The film premiered September 30 at the Tashkent International Film Festival. Several Uzbek television channels in October began broadcasting the film, which also appeared on YouTube, where it gained over a million views.
The film is playing nationwide in cinemas.
"Tutkunlik" tells the stories of two families and a man who make their way to Turkey and then eventually to Syria for various reasons.
Once there, the families are pulled apart.
The "Islamic State" (IS) sends the men to a combat training camp and places the women and children in a separate camp where every female newcomer receives a black hijab.
Most of the main characters die throughout the film, leaving only a lone woman alongside her daughter and an orphaned boy. She is forced to marry another militant after her husband dies.
In the end, however, three buses displaying Uzbek flags arrive at their refugee camp to take women and children home.
The film then cuts to documentary footage of a flight transporting women and children from a refugee camp to Tashkent -- taken from the real-life Operation Dobro (Good Deed), or Operation Mekhr in Uzbek.
The humanitarian effort from 2019–2021 brought home more than 550 Uzbek citizens, mostly women and children, who had been caught up in various conflicts in the Middle East.
Malikov, the director of the film, spoke with women who returned to their homeland as part of the operation.
"All three storylines were taken from real characters ... this is based on real events," he told Caravanserai.
For example, the experiences of Nasiba, an Uzbek woman who now lives near Tashkent, mirror the stories told in the movie.
Nasiba and her 12-year-old daughter arrived in Turkey in November 2014 at the request of her husband and eldest daughter, both of whom had gone on ahead along with Nasiba's son-in-law and two granddaughters.
But when she arrived, she was greeted by strangers who put her in a minibus and took her to Syria and then to Iraq.
Only there did she see her family and realise they had become insurgents.
"In Syria and Iraq, the men wore beards and carried machine guns. They looked menacing and scary. When I saw my husband, I immediately began to urge him to return home. But he said our passports had been taken away, and there was no turning back," Nasiba said.
A sniper killed Nasiba's eldest daughter in front of her eyes in March 2019. A bombing by anti-IS forces killed her son-in-law two days earlier.
A month later, in April, the same fate befell her husband, leaving Nasiba alone with her daughter and two grandchildren -- one three and a half years old, the other 11 months old.
Luckily, in May 2019, Nasiba returned to Uzbekistan as part of Operation Dobro.
"Of course, we want to warn those who are thinking of embarking on this path. I would like people to just watch and draw their own conclusions," Malikov said.
"Because some people, especially young people, see it all romantically [like] some kind of struggle for freedom or something. But any war is always terrible because of its realities, and even more so this war in the Middle East," he said.
"There's nothing liberating or just there."
"This is not a global revolution. They also have some ideas, but hiding behind these ideas are far-reaching geopolitical motives," he added.
Malikov's film has been generally well received.
"Tutkunlik" stands out for its production and script, Shoyira Nusratova, a journalist and art scholar from Tashkent, said.
The strength of the film is that it is based on true events. That is always a winning choice for feature films, she said.
"Also, for the first time, the film raised problems that exist in Uzbek society: labour migration and unemployment. Indeed, some of the characters wanted to make money in Syria," Nusratova said.
"Still, the film's value lies in the creators' effort to show the kind of trap that those who left for the Middle East fall into. Perhaps life there is even scarier and more tragic [than in the film], but it is impossible to reflect everything in the cinema," she said.
Nuriyakhonim Madaminova, an undergraduate at a Tashkent university, said she liked the film.
"The main thing is true stories, as indicated in the credits. The fate of the main characters is tragic," she said.
"For me, the message of the movie is: 'There's no need to look for happiness abroad when you have a motherland and a home,'" Madaminova told Caravanserai.