“Myn Bala”: Move over Borat, it’s time to meet Sartai

Kazakhstan’s film industry is releasing the new movie, “Myn Bala”, a story of “myth-making” and “swashbuckling” proportions. NewEurasia’s Tomyris rounds up the many sunny remarks being made about the film and hopes its high production values shall silence “Borat” jokes once and for all.

A scene from the new Kazakh film, "Myn Bala".

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.””

It therefore probably won’t make Nazerbaev happy to learn that the movie has been compared to Hollywood pictures: “Steppe Robin Hood” and “Think 300 across the Mongolian Steppe.

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.””

In terms of film popularity being good for tourism, Minister of Tourism and Sport Talgat Yermeghiyayev told BBC:

“”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!

4 comments Show discussion Hide discussion
  • Could we have a moratorium on Borat references please? How old is that film already?

  • @ Birth of Kazakhs from seduction of Kipchak women by Mongols or what is hidden from you by the official Astana?

    Modern genetic studies have shown that paternal Y-DNA Haplogroup C3 prevail in the Kazakhs, which is mainly found among the Mongols and the Manchus and not found in other Turkic people. In Kirghiz prevails paternal Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1, which shows that the Kirghiz people are of Scythian origin.

    But how it comes that Kazakhs speak Kipchak dialect of Turkic language and are considered a sort of fraternal people to Kirghiz?

    Again the door opens easily. A number of Kazakh tribes emerged in the era of the Mongol invasion and had Mongolian names. In particular, the medieval history of the Mongols reflects iconic names for the Kazakh psyche, such as Naimans, Konyrats, Uysuns, Zhalairs, Argyns, Kerayits, and very little survived from the pre-Mongol history of Kazakhstan, from which in the modern Kazakh tribal structure survived the names, perhaps, only Kipchaks and Kangly. Direct connection of the Kazakh Uysuns, Dulats with Mongolian Hushins and Duklats are confirmed by historical data. Invading to the Kipchak steppe, the Mongol warriors held harems of turkic women, and became the founding fathers of new genera and tribes, passing to offsprings the names of their own tribal affiliation. Offsprings of the Mongolian invaders started speaking in Turkic languages and local dialects. Maybe that’s why the Kazakh’s native language is called “ana tili” (“mother tongue”).

    Chinese traveler Xu Ting in 1236 writes: “[H, Xu] Ting, watched their [ie, the Tatars Mongol] customs – a husband has a few dozen wives or more than a hundred wives … Genghis established as a law, it is necessary to them [the Tatars] breed to multiply their offspring “(Yes, I Peng, Xu Ting 1940, p. 23a). Mongolian warlords, who often served military service were probably not able to control the process of educating their kids, their wives and children were of course numerous. And their turkic wives spoke mostly Turkic and not Mongolian, those women sang lullabies to kids in Turkic languages and raised their children from the Mongols in the Turkic-speaking environment, and these processes were irreversible, and gradually turkicized Mongols.


    Invasion of the Mongol tribes caused great trouble to Kipchaks. Plano Carpini, describing his journey through the territory of modern Kazakhstan, found that it is necessary to announce he had seen “numerous head and bones of dead people lying on the ground like manure …”. Carpini thus speaks of the extermination of the Kipchak and Kangly people by Mongols. As you may know, until the Mongol invasion led by Genghis Khan, Kipchaks lived in the steppes of Dasht-i Kipchak in the territory of modern Kazakhstan, so the land used to be called the Kipchak steppes (Kipchaks lived here after the Oghuz, Kipchaks drove them to the west and south). The Mongols of Genghis Khan fought violently with the Kipchaks, as they saw them as a threat to their existence. No wonder the historians say about the Kipchak civilization. Kipchaks were sworn enemies of the Mongols and the Mongols pursued Kipchaks to Hungary and the Czech Republic (know about Kotyan Khan and his Kipchaks) and to the Middle East for the sole purpose of destroying them. If you take the current percentage of Kipchak among the Kazakhs, they are about 10% -15%. The low proportion of Kipchaks, which used to be famous in modern day Kazakh land, and a large proportion of other Kazakh tribes of Mongolian origin clearly indicates that the Kipchaks were indeed destroyed by Mongols. Do not forget that the alien invaders – the Mongols of Genghis Khan took to wife Kipchak local women as trophies, and gradually assimilated to become Turkic speaking. Children born from his Mongol father – and turkic Kipchak mother started speaking the mother tongue, not the language of father. Mongolian tribes of Genghis Khan, settled in the steppes of Kazakhstan played significant role in the ethnogenesis of the Kazakhs.

  • Charlene Vance Envy

    July 26, 2012 at 2:05 am Reply

    The fruits of Kazakh labor will be on display at UCLA this weekend when the university kicks off “Kazakhstan: Montage of Cinemas,” a two-week retrospective that organizers say is the first such spotlight in the Southland. And more movies are in the pipeline: Production is now underway on a historical epic called “Myn Bala,” which has a budget of $7 million — small by Hollywood standards but one of the most expensive films Kazakhstan has ever made.

  • I wonder if anyone knows any real info or the bio of the boy who acted as Sartai???? I would luv to knw it and I would appreciate if someone can give me, my mail z huda-peace@live.com
    Thank u.

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