Frank van den Engel & Masha Novikova


a documentary film by Frank van den Engel and Masha Novikova in co-production with Zeppers Film & TV and IKON (NL), supported by Media-fund (NL) and Flanders audiovisual fund (BE). Released in january 2007

On the long journey of many months along the ancient Silk Road from Europe to China, the circus was the only entertainment along the way. In Uzbekistan, currently under dictatorship, the circus tradition is thriving, just as it was in the days of Genghis Khan, and the circus acts have changed little. Two circus artists must choose between continuing the old circus tradition and political involvement. Their choices have a serious effect on their lifelong friendship.






Circus Politics: Frank van den Engel & Masja Novikova's Between Heaven and Earth
Screened at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.

Tursan, a gentlemen with a white beard and gold teeth, smiles into the camera and says, "For my circus, I need peace." Peace has been hard to come by in Central Asia, especially since the crack-up of the Soviet Union, and Tursan says, "A circus should steer clear of politics." The circus is a major cultural tradition in this part of the world, but in the perilous 1990s it was not always possible for a circus to "steer clear of politics." Between Heaven and Earth (Tussen hemel en aarde), a lovely, lyrical documentary directed by Frank van den Engel and Masja Novikova, looks at two interconnected circus families in Uzbekistan, examining how they have been impacted by dictatorship (both Russian and Uzbek) and what it means for the circus.Achat and Tursan have been friends and circus performers since they were little boys. Their paths have diverged in recent years due to differing philosophies about politics. The dictatorship in Uzbekistan, which rose in the wake of Communism's downfall, has persecuted both of them for their political affiliations. Achat spent two years in prison, where he was tortured. "That is something we do not talk about," says Achat. Achat and Tursan were members of ERK, the democratic party, for which they were both arrested. Tursan, since the death of his son (Achat claims that Tursan's son was murdered, as retaliation for his father's political activities), has backed out of politics completely. He focuses on his family and on the circus. Achat, however, continues to organize, heading up a human rights organization, which provides legal aid to those in need. His family, his friends, plead with him to be cautious, to not make waves, to not call attention to himself. Tursan refuses. There is now a rift, a painful rift, between these two friends.
Between Heaven and Earth mixes interviews (featuring Achat, Tursan and others) with absolutely incredible footage of their circus performances, all set against the mountainous Uzbekistan landscape. The circuses, for the most part, take place in dusty public squares. This is not Cirque du Soleil, with big-budget production values and a soundtrack. This is circus at its most pure, its most raw. These people are amazing. We see a strong man pull a car with his teeth. We see gravity-defying tumbling acts. There are shots of the tightrope-walker from below, as she runs (yes, runs) across the tightrope with a 3 year old boy standing on her shoulders, the blazing blue sky arching above them in lieu of a circus tent.The tightrope walker is one of the most haunting characters in the film. She is a young woman, beautiful, and she says, in her interview, that all of her girlfriends are now focusing on getting married and having children. She thinks maybe she should start thinking about those things too. However, her work fills up all of the space in her mind. There's a loneliness to her, an isolation, but what else can she do? In the dusty public squares of Uzbek villages, people cluster together, escaping the roughness of their lives for an hour or so by staring silently up at the blue sky and watching a young woman running above them on a wire. She takes on an almost mythical aspect in these scenes. She is no longer a mere individual. She is her tradition. She is the circus of Central Asia. A floating figure, hovering above politics, above poverty, excellent at what she does, not giving in to despair, not accepting a second-hand life, her focus of laser-point intensity, she represents the best in us all.I was riveted by the film from beginning to end. It is a rare look at a world still haunted by the old paths of the Silk Road, by Tamurlane, by Genghis Khan, by Stalin. Politics come and go. Dictators rise and fall. But the circus is eternal. Between Heaven and Earth is not to be missed.


Frank van den Engel

Frank van den Engel (1956, Rotterdam). In 1997 he started an independent documentary production company Zeppers Film & TV as executive producer. In ten years time he produced over 50 films, for theatre and television. Some of these have been awarded at prestigious festivals around the world: Andre Hazes - she believes in me, Dans, Grozny Dans, Voices of Bam. Nowadays he combines production work with the development and realization of his own film projects, and with the coaching of first time directors. His debut Normaal - I always come back (82 mins) was theatrically released in 2002. His latest documentary Between Heaven and Earth (70 mins) was released in the cinema in 2007.

Masha Novikova

Masha Novikova was born in 1956 in Moscow, USSR. She studied pedagogy at the University of Moscow. And later worked as a teacher Russian language and literature. In Kazachstan she worked as a director-assistant in a German drama theater. Short before the fall of the Berlin Wall she came to the Netherlands, since then she has been living and working in Amsterdam. First Masha Novikova worked as interpretot and as a teacher Russian. She also worked as a guide in the 'Szar Peter House' in Zaandam. Later Masha started to work as an executive producer for Dutch television. At the same time she studied by Stefan Mayakowski at the 'Kunstweb' camera, script writing and filmdirection.

Since the year 2000 she also started to film herself, she worked with mini-dv as the second film photographer for several documentaries. In 2005 she directed her first film 'Fallen Engel', documentary about traffic in East -European women who were brought to the Netherland to work as prostitues.

Before making 'Three Comrades' Masha Novikova did some earlier work in Chechnya for documentary by Leo de Boer entitled 'Train to Grozny'. That was in April 2000, just after Grozny's total destruction. Driven by a feeling of shame about her own country, she has felt very much involved with the Chechnyan war ever since. In 2002 Masha Novikova did some shooting in Grozny for Jos de Putter's film 'Dance Grozny Dance'.

In addition, she did several film reports on Chechnya. She also worked in 2003 with Amnesty International on a film about Lidya Yusupova, who won the Martin Ennals prize in Geneve.

Awards / Festivals

Première Mondial à Rotterdam Film Festival, Pays-bas
Sélection officielle Tribeca International Film Festival, New York, USA
Sélection officielle Golden Apricot, l'Armenie
Sélection officielle Official selection Melbourne International Filmfestival, Australie
Sélection officielle Official selection Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival, USA
Sélection officielle Vancouver International Film Festival, Canada
Sélection officielle Sevilla Festival de Cine, Espagne
Sélection officielle 1001 Belgesel Film Festival, Turquie
Sélection officielle Official selection, Brazil
Sélection officielle Official selection Watch Docs Festival, Pologne
Sélection officielleOne World IFF, Tcechie
Sélection officielle FIAAP  International Film Festival of Performing Arts, Portugal
International Jury - Documentary Prize of the Oficial Selection  
University Jury - Documentary Prize

Sélection officielle Taiwan International Documentary Festival, Taiwan
Sélection officielle, Document 6 International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival