Raising awareness through documentary making


In 2019, Kyrgyz journalist Aigul Adzheiva produced her first documentary, a hard hitting look at issues of injustice connected with gender inequality in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  The documentary, called Stolen Life’ examined the practices of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan and virgin medical tests in Tajikistan through the anguished stories of individual families. It  aired on the NTS Channel in Kyrgyzstan in October 2019 and was also posted on YouTube where it has had over 150,000 views to dateRevealing the very real repercussions of common ‘traditions’ generated much heated debate and comment around the issues after the broadcast and online. 

Finding compelling ways to present social issues through the media had been a long-held ambition for Aigul.  And so the documentary formed one of the outcomes of her personal project – or Action Plan – which was developed during her time in the UK on the John Smith Trust Fellowship Programme. 

Aigul became a John Smith Trust Fellow in 2018 and at the time she was working as TV producer at the NTS Channel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She had also just started hosting a live talk show on social issues on NTS.  The Action Plan she proposed for the Fellowship Programme was to contribute to the development of the Kyrgyz media’s ability to produce innovative programming around social issues by raising awareness of them through high quality TV contentAigul wanted to kickstart this longer term aim with her own documentary looking at gender equality.  With a degree in journalism and nine year’s work experience already with local TV stations and production companies, she felt the added value of her learning on the Fellowship Programme would set her up for success on her return.   

During her time in the UK, the John Smith Trust connected Aigul with experts relevant to her Action PlanShe learned about tough questioning and scrupulous journalistic preparation from the host of the BBC’s ‘HardTalk’ interview programme, Stephen Sackur; she spent time with international documentary filmmaker, Patricia de Mesquita discussing all aspects of film making and also shadowed a producer in the BBC’s Social Affairs Unit to understand how the BBC approaches innovative coverage of the UK’s social issues.  

Armed with this wealth of learning and experience, together with the motivation and passion to realise her project, Aigul set about fund raising as soon as she returned home to Kyrgyzstan.  With the help of a small grant, she produced ‘Stolen Life’ within a year.  Aigul is already working on her second documentary – exposing the misery of underage girls who are working in Russia with Kyrgyz migrant families – and has been working with local NGOs on bringing attention to women’s rights thanks to the impact of her first documentary.  She has also been sharing her learning by setting up training programmes for local journalists.  

Aigul attributes the JST Fellowship Programme experience with giving her the confidence and leadership skills needed to achieve her goal.  “I saw that when you have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve – and why  you want to achieve it – and when you have a strong desire to do something to change your society, the opportunities and likeminded people will find you themselves. You begin to attract them.