Perhaps this one was a little too close to home in Dushanbe.
Movie theaters in Tajikistan -- a country ranked “not free” by Freedom House, where men are forced to shave their beards and the government spends millions on vanity projects while half the population lives on less than $2 a day -- will not be showing Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film, “The Dictator.”
The spoof -- which follows an eccentric and brutal Gaddafi-style autocrat, Admiral-General Omar Aladeen (played by Cohen), on his misadventure-filled visit to New York -- conflicts with the “mentality” of the people, a film distributor in Dushanbe told Kloop.kg.
According to the news site, the film was to premiere on May 17 in the rest of Central Asia, save for Turkmenistan – whose parody-worthy late dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashi), could have easily provided some inspiration for Cohen.
Daler Davlatov, a sales manager from the company Tantan, identified by Kloop as the sole distributor of new foreign films in Tajikistan, told the news site that Tajikistan shouldn’t be compared with “Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries […] because our mentality, as you know yourself, is different. That’s the only reason we didn’t include ‘The Dictator’ in the list of premieres.”
Other than Davlatov, movie industry insiders contacted by Kloop declined to comment on “The Dictator.”
Sartay’s is a peace-loving village. But when marauding Mongolian Dzungars brutally slay most of the inhabitants, including his parents, the Kazakh youth has no choice but to raise an army of teenagers to fight back, courageously attacking the Mongolians and rallying other youths to the cause.
Across Kazakhstan, an epic historical movie with an unabashedly patriotic tale is playing to packed theaters.
Directed by Akhan Satayev for the state-run Kazakhfilm studio, “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe” opens with the Dzungars’ vicious attack and the making of our hero. Myn Bala in Kazakh means 1,000 children – Sartay (played by Asylkhan Tolepov) actually raises an army of 100, but he tells them before the final battle scene that together they are worth 1,000 warriors.
Director Satayev is better known for making movies with subtle plot twists that tackle modern-day problems such as organized crime, but audiences don’t seem to mind the black-and-white approach to history in his latest film. At a recent showing in Almaty, viewers applauded at the end. As Tengri News reported, Myn Bala is proving a blockbuster, taking a million dollars at the box office in the first weekend after its release on May 3, a Kazakh record.
The film’s success is notable since it was shot in Kazakh (with a bit of Mongolian). Films in Kazakh often struggle in a country where only about two-thirds of people speak the language, but the movie (called “Zhauzhurek Myn Bala” in Kazakh, or “The Brave Thousand Children”) is showing in the original language with Russian subtitles in many theaters.
Hot on the heels of a silver screen version of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s early life, The Sky of My Childhood, comes a stage version about the dramatic rise of the man officially known as Leader of the Nation.
Deep Roots (in Kazakh Teren Tamyrlar), written by Yerkin Zhuasbek and directed by Nurlan Zhumaniyazov, premieres at Astana’s Bayseitova Opera and Ballet Theater on July 2 and promises to offer a whimsical view of the life of Nazarbayev, who rose from a poor rural background and an early career as a steelworker to become the strongman president of Kazakhstan, which incidentally marks its 20th anniversary of independence this year.
The play takes place in a forest near Astana – the new capital that is Nazarbayev’s brainchild – and takes the form of an allegory, Zhuasbek said in the run-up to the premiere in remarks quoted by Kazakhstan Today.
The president goes there to admire the view and meets Zhaynak, an elderly man of the forest. Zhaynak, who “believes that ‘a forest is also like a man,’ and to learn its secrets you have to be in the forest at night,” urges Nazarbayev to return after dark, which – of course – he does.
Up-and-coming movie directors will be in the spotlight this week as Almaty hosts its ninth-annual international film festival, Shaken’s Stars.
The event highlights the work of young filmmakers from Kazakhstan, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Austria, England and a host of other countries. Some 55 films will be competing in three categories--Young Cinema, made by directors under 35, Student Cinema, and Debuts.
The festival has become a regular spring event for Almaty's film buffs. Named after Shaken Aimanov, a leading light in Soviet-era Kazakh cinema, whose name also graces the 'Kazakhfilm' studios in Almaty, the event runs May 11-15 at the Silk Way City multiplex.
This year there will be a special focus on new cinema from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Eight films produced in the country in the past year will be featured in a separate showcase running alongside the main program.
A still from The Sky of My Childhood. (KazakhFilm Photo.)
As a new movie about the childhood of Kazakhstan’s president premieres in Almaty tonight, cinemagoers expecting a eulogy to the Leader of the Nation are in for a surprise: The Sky of My Childhood, directed by Rustem Abdrashov for Kazakhfilm, is no piece of simplistic post-Soviet propaganda.
This Kazakh-language movie certainly offers a flattering picture of a young Nursultan Nazarbayev, but it also presents a reflective look at Soviet Kazakhstan in the 1940s and 1950s. It was filmed with a budget of $3 million against a background of the luscious countryside in which this rural-boy-made-good grew up.
The action features a boy named Sultan, born into a family living on the rolling zhaylau (alpine pasturelands) of Ushkonyr outside Almaty. It traces his early childhood in the countryside growing up in a yurt with his mother, father and grandmother, and their move when he was a young boy to the village of Shamalgan.
The tone is upbeat: Despite the backdrop of World War II and the latter Stalin era, the hero -- played by three different actors -- enjoys a carefree childhood galloping across the zhaylau on horseback, learning falconry, and playing the stringed dombyra.
Not surprisingly, Sultan is a high flier, winning the local bayga (horserace) through a feat of horsemanship and outshining his classmates with his intellectual prowess.
“The Liquidator,” the latest offering by hotshot Kazakh director Akan Satayev, hits screens across Kazakhstan on April 7. The $2 million feature, shot on location in Almaty, tells the story of a bodyguard who uncovers foul play in his brother's untimely death.
Producers snagged British bruiser Vinnie Jones to add a menacing edge to the film and boost its international appeal. The ex-soccer-star-turned-actor plays a mute assassin on assignment in Kazakhstan. Jones brings solid credentials as an on-screen thug with appearances in Guy Ritchie's “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.”
Jones, who has a bad boy reputation in real life thanks to his many bar room brawls over the years, is an ideal fit for Satayev, who came to prominence with his debut 2007 feature “Racketeer,” which told the story in graphic detail of Almaty's violent 1990s underworld.
Satayev's last movie, “Strayed,” was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film category in this year's Oscars. This thriller sees a family stranded overnight on the steppe. In the morning the husband awakes to find his wife and son have mysteriously disappeared.
UPDATE, October 7 – The producer of “The 10 Conditions of Love” has informed EurasiaNet.org that festival organizers did manage to screen the documentary in Bishkek on September 24, despite the SNB’s attempt to stop them. The initial screening was halted halfway through, after which the film “Russian Lessons” was screened in its entirety, according to the producer, followed by the remainder of “10 Conditions.”
Kyrgyzstan is regularly hailed as Central Asia’s most democratic state, flanked by autocracies and dictatorships. But the authorities’ strangely dogged – and successful – recent effort to keep viewers from seeing a documentary film about minority rights has left people wondering whether the compliment isn’t just relative.
On October 1, screenings of a film critical of Chinese policy toward its Uighur minority were abruptly cancelled in Naryn -- the third Kyrgyz city where this happened within a week. The Australian documentary, called “The 10 Conditions of Love,” was part of an annual human-rights film festival that had already run in Bishkek and Karakol, near Lake Issyk-Kul; in both cities, organizers told EurasiaNet.org, the film had been banned by the National Security Service (SNB), a successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.
The movers and shakers of Central Asia's cinema world are gathering in Almaty, Kazakhstan as the sixth annual Eurasia International Film Festival kicks off on September 21. The five-day festival will highlight recent Kazakh productions while focusing on new movies from Central Asia and the Turkic speaking world.
Kazakhstan’s cinema industry produced 15 films in 2009 and has been enjoying a renaissance over the last few years as directors tackle tricky social issues and the Soviet legacy.
There will be a screening of Ermek Tursunov's Oscar nominated "Kelin," which caused controversy on its release for its depiction of the trials and tribulations of a young bride. It raised the hackles of Mazhilis (parliamentary) deputies, who attacked the film for negatively portraying Kazakh society.
The prudish politicians, who have taken it upon themselves to be the guardian's of the nation’s morals, also had the knives out for "Kairat-Champion. Virgin #1" – including its scenes of homosexuality – and for "Tulpan" which showed Kazakhs in an “ignoble” light.
Now, a film about this once secret collection has hit the silver screen. The Desert of Forbidden Art, a documentary by filmmakers Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev about Igor Savitsky, the man who spent his life collecting the banned Soviet art, his museum and its collection, is touring art museums and film festivals around the world. Click here for a list of screenings.
Savitsky first went to Karakalpakstan in 1950 as member of an archaeological expedition, and, after falling in love with the region’s isolated art scene, he stayed. In 1966, he persuaded the local authorities in Nukus that the city needed a museum of art, and opened it with hundreds of paintings donated by Tashkent-based artist Ural Tansykbayev.
Thanks to Nukus’ remoteness from Moscow politics and local officials’ ignorance of art, Savitsky collected some 40,000 paintings by Soviet artists banned for ideological reasons, artists who refused to paint propaganda in a social realist style.
It seems that Kazakhstan has finally learned to laugh at Borat, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's comic character whose oafish antics amused western moviegoers when he hit the big screen in 2006. Kazakh director Erkin Rakishev says he’s going to ride the wave of success enjoyed by Cohen’s mock-umentary, Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and make his own movie that might just have the last laugh on Borat.
“We want to ride on the success of Borat,” Rakishev told the state-owned broadsheet Kazakhstanskaya Pravda. “Using the popularity of the movie in the West, on this wave [of success] we’ll show the foreign audience the true Kazakhstan, not the one dreamed up by Sacha Baron Cohen.”
The new film, My Brother Borat, will show a more flattering picture of the Kazakhs than that portrayed by Cohen, who went around the United States in the guise of a Kazakh journalist shocking people with his outrageous behavior.
The movie’s ironic intent passed most Kazakhs by. Not many were amused by the comedian’s lampooning of them as a bunch of ignorant, racist, sexist peasants. The people of Kazakhstan, from government officials down to the man in the street, were disgusted at being singled out as the butt of Cohen’s sometimes downright crude humor.
Not that many people in Kazakhstan had actually seen Cultural Learnings -- distributors refused to show the movie in the country on grounds of taste.
Now Rakishev’s going to set the record straight with My Brother Borat, due for release next spring. The plot centers on an “average American” called John finding Cohen’s film so hilarious that he decides to pay a visit to Borat’s homeland to see it with his own eyes.