The story focuses on two characters: Kworbulan, a young Shaman from the mountains, whose ultimate aim is to save his people from extinction; and Arkhas, an ascetic monk, formerly a merchant who has now renounced worldly possessions in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.
The main conflict of the film centres on Kworbulan and Arkhas’s contrasting views not just on spirituality but on music, love, and life itself. At the same time, they both face conflict within: Kworbulan between his desire to be a great shamanic leader, on one hand, and his guilt about past mistakes on the other; and Arkhas between his need for human contact and his determination to renounce everything worldly for God.
These conflicts and the compelling backdrop of the Silk Road, with its harsh but majestic landscape, combine with the idea of a quest that both men must undertake together. This gives the story its form: an epic adventure into the unknown across desert and mountains in search of hope and salvation.
THE LAND’S MUSIC conveys an authentic impression of life on the Silk Road in the 9th Century, a period of immense cultural exchange that had profound effects on the future of the world. Today’s ‘global village’ has some of its roots in this Ninth Century cultural crossroads, and our story, which bridges Eastern and Western mythologies, brings to life the conflicts and opportunities that characterised this exciting and vibrant period. Although the Silk Road itself was a corridor along which ideas and civilisation were spread, it also passed through and near unknown and remote worlds which even today maintain their isolation and quiet fascination. THE LAND’S MUSIC is also a story about how how an unknown small community reacts to outside contact and its realisation of its own temporal place in history.
Essential to the telling of this story is a visual style that highlights the two central characters’ contrasting personalities. I want to bring out this contrast by shooting with a fluid style for Kworbulan, reflecting his expressionism and ease with the world, and a more formal approach for Arkhas to show his repressed, austere character. Another crucial ingredient in the film is music. Arkhas believes that music is a divine form that, if he can find the ideal expression of it, will help him find safe passage into the afterlife. For Kworbulan, music is a purely human experience, one that helps him win over friends to help save his home. Kworbulan’s song is natural and expressive, whereas Arkhas’ is a structured chant. Recently the predominant style displayed by this part of the world’s cinema has been gritty realism, and it was our intention while maintaining this general aesthetic, to push the audience, as informed by its other-worldly content, into a more lyrical and mythical dimension. It was a challenge also to use film’s unique ability: in THE LAND’S MUSIC the dramatic climax centres around the synthesis of the two characters, in particular their musical styles, as Arkhas discovers that he needs Kworbulan’s expressiveness in order to achieve the enlightenment he’s been seeking. In fact, the ideal music Arkhas has been looking for does not exist. Rather, beauty comes from the mean between two extremes: Arkhas’ form and order juxtaposed with the messy humanity represented by Kworbulan. The resolution of the story comes as the characters find redemption and truth in a highly cinematic synthesis of their two very different outlooks on life.
My past experiences living and making films in this part of the world has given me an intimate glimpse into the world depicted in THE LAND’S MUSIC. It is a world I have been passionate about bringing to life through a story that is epic, muscular and resonant. All my previous documentaries and short films are about how characters react to sudden threats to their survival, and whether they respond in a way that serves only themselves or the greater community. I want audiences to recognise how the age-old conflict between personal fulfilment and our ties to others through family and community continues to resonate throughout the centuries. The world of Kworbulan and Arkhas might be superficially very different from ours, but the conflicts and dilemmas they explore remain as relevant today as ever. In this time of mass migration, we are all struggling to form new identities whilst still trying to hold onto the most important things that define us as groups of people or individuals. THE LAND’S MUSIC addresses these issues through a strong, truthful story of huge cultural relevance, which I believe gives it an appeal to audiences all round the world.