“Myn Bala”: Move over Borat, it’s time to meet Sartai
Culture and History, Kazakhstan, Media and Internet3 Comments
War; triumph; love; romance; empire; defeat; power; loneliness; togetherness; sacrifice; friendship; honour; homeland; youth; freedom; perseverance; legend.
Move over “Borat”! A new – epic, patriotic, heroic, non-offensive, cultural stimulating and historically perfected – film about Kazakhstan has been shot and put up on screen for the world to learn from and enjoy.
Released in Kazakhstan on May 3rd, the state administered Kazakhfilm Studio introduced “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe“, a movie about Kazakhs overthrowing their Mongolian oppressors. The film was made by well-known Kazakh Director Akan Satayev, at an estimated $12 million, and the film brought in $1 million on its first weekend at the box office. The film’s team includes “Central Asia’s leading DoP Khassan Kydyraliyev (“The Light Thief”), script doctor Claire Downs, editors Nicolas Trembasiewicz (“Transporter”) and Christopher Bell (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and action consultant Teddy Chen (“Bodyguards And Assassins”).” Moreover, the “Myn Bala” Facebook page (supported by 216 ‘Likes’) informs that the film’s leading roles are played by teenage actors of Kazakhstan, who were chosen from 40,000 hopefuls that showed up to auditions spread through out the country.
Much in relation to what these actors likely want to portray about their country on the Big Screen – on March 15th, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) informed how Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who is quoted throughout the patriotic film, called “… on the country’s filmmakers to produce more “patriotic movies.“” Regarding foreign films, RFE/RL quotes Nazarbaev saying:
“”Seldom show the quest for knowledge, genuine friendship, true love, supporting one another, or simply the desire to work for the country, for the homeland.””
However, much to Nazarbaev’s national Kazakh pleasure, “Myn Bala” indeed incorporates all the characteristics he considers to hold of upmost importance in films.
“Myn Bala is a universal story about the freedom of the human spirit and the struggle against slavery and despotism, as seen through the eyes of young Kazakhs in their teens.”
(“Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steepe,” Facebook Page)
RFE/RL describes the film as:
“With plenty of swashbuckling thrills and spills, it tells the tale of some brave Kazakh youths heroically rising up against their Mongol overlords in the 18th century.”
“Myn Bala” is a story about Sartai (played by famous actor Asylkhan Tolepov), a Kazakh teenager plagued by war, betrayal, love and power along the way of life. Sartai escapes from the occupying Dzhungar Tribe (Mongol Warriors) – which sought to restore the Empire of Genghis Khan (from which the Dzhungars descended). Seeking revenge upon those who attacked and killed his family, Sartai eventually gains support from multitudes of teenage Kazakh boys and together they begin a rebel force against the oppressive occupiers under the group “Myn Bala” – which translates from Kazakh to “a thousands boys” – and liberate their country. Sartai is in love with Zere, and all the while during war, endures the emotion turmoil every teenager experiences. In 1729, they officially enter battle with the Dzhungars at the Battle of Anyrakay (Anyrakay is a mountainous region, north west of the capital “apple” city Almaty). The boys come out victorious and Sartai becomes a Kazakh legend, a symbol of freedom.
The film’s trailer shows Sarati and his crew battling their opponents on horseback and in cold bloodshed. Feature quotes that emerge from various characters in the trailer give a great summary of what’s to be expected in the film:
“”Let the children and old people go!””
““I swear. I swear. I swear.””
“”Don’t come back without a victory.””
“”Only like this can we gain independence.””
“”Sartai, maybe I’ll never see you again, but I will remember this day forever.””
““If we don’t meet again on this earth, we’ll meet in paradise.””
About the culture of cinema – particularly this cinematic feature – Head of Kazakhfilm Ermek Amanshayev (the man often associated with “saving the local film industry in the post-Soviet era”) said:
“”Cinema is a myth-making industry and although we focus on the accuracy of the historical background the main thing for us is the legend – Sartay, the legendary hero.””
Thus, a tremendous amount of time and attention went into making sure the filming, story, costumes and so on were right on target. Art Director of “Myn Bala” Kuat Tleubayev said:
“”We made sure we didn’t have nails for example because they didn’t have nails at that time.””
“”The focus was that nothing should look new, it should look as if it came from that time.”"
In discussing the importance of portraying the integrated culture and history of Kazakhstan, in October 2011, Director Akan Satayev told Reuters:
“”The main thing for me is that the young generation should know the cost that our ancestors paid for our current independence and our freedom.””
Dicussing the importance the film has on Kazakh culture and society, Film Producer Anna Katchko told The Washington Times:
““‘Myn Bala’ is one of those projects which is important to give the country its identity.””
““It’s also a coming-of-age story about falling in love, first fights, losing friends and gaining them again.””
“”Making films is really important for our image building, for an international audience. I think it’s a good state investment to put money into it. After all, it’s just advertising the country abroad and hopefully attracting people in.””
Moreover, in an interview with BBC, Director Akan Satayev said:
““I think we’ve made a really good movie and I think it’ll appeal to audiences across the world. A great film knows no borders.””
The film knows no borders indeed. EurasiaNet.org informs how the film is leaping over language barriers and succeeding in entertaining culturally consuming the crowds:
“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.”
An undeniable success, the film has made its way international, in more ways than one! Much to Yermeghiyayev’s pleasure, the film has been seen by the world, in film’s most important international festival!
On May 16th, Screen Daily informed that 108 Media, a Toronto, Canada based sales and distribution company, earned international rights to “Myn Bala”. 108 Media’s President Nathaniel Warsh is incredibly proud of the film:
““This is such an ambitious epic with flawless production values, we’re proud to bring the picture to the international marketplace.””
KazTAG also quotes Warsh:
“”This project with big potentials has been made perfectly. We are proud to present it at the world market.”"
The film has made its way to the 65th Cannes Film Festival/Festival De Cannes (2012). “Myn Bala” was set to screen in Cannes on May 17th. Tengrinews.kz reported that the film was to be shown on May 17th, at the “Film Market (the business counterpart of the Cannes Film Festival and one of the largest film markets in the world).” Click here for a picture of “Myn Bala” Producer Aliya Uvalzhanova with Berlin programmer Nikolaj Nikitin. For more photos of the film and the cast, click here.
Moreover, “The Student,” another Kazakh film by Director Darezhan Omirbayev was also included in the Special Screenings at Cannes. On May 21st, KazTAG reported that another one of Kazakhfilm’s productions, “The Student”, was also acquired by the international film distributors at Cannes Film Festival – by the German company Media Luna New Films. About “The Student”, Development Director of Media Luna New Films Alessandro Lombardo said:
“”Student” film really impressed us. We will have honor to present it at the world market.””
Beat that, “Borat”! “Myn Bala” has become an internationally acclaimed film that will have Kazakhs, and those interested in Kazakhstan, tuned in for all the right reasons! Also, given the popularity of “The Student”, it seems this current streak of international Kazakh cinema success is here to stay!